Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Out of Sight, Out of Mind September 23, 2016

Lazarus Waiting at the Door 11th c. St Climint de Taull Barcelona VanderbiltOut of sight, out of mind, says the old adage.

I wonder if the corollary is also true: out of mind, out of sight.

Poor Lazarus, covered with sores, lay in the gateway outside the home of the rich man, Dives, for years. And for years Dives ignored him. Ignored him so utterly that, in truth, he simply didn’t see him.

He knew who Lazarus was, but was profoundly blind to Lazarus’ needs.

These men are fictional, they are characters in a story Jesus told. And the fiction continues after the rich man’s death, when he wakes up in the flames of hell, and looking upward in his pain, sees Lazarus resting in Father Abraham’s arms in heaven.

Dives cries out at the sight of Lazarus, begging him to bring some cool water down to hell.

And Lazarus doesn’t answer. Indeed, he has not spoken in life or in death. He endures. He endures suffering, and in heaven, he rests enduringly in bliss.

But Father Abraham answers, and has quite a back-and-forth about justice with Dives, whose astonishment is genuine and whose blindness is vast.

What Dives, the rich man, has never seen is that Lazarus is a son of Abraham, and therefore his own brother, for Abraham is the father of them all in God’s sight. And as a brother, Lazarus is owed all that Dives would owe his biological brother. Now there’s a shocker.

To be poor is to be invisible in so many ways. I heard an economist being interviewed on NPR, advocating that cash is no longer needed, and that cash is just a way of committing crimes. Osama bin Laden paid for things in suitcases of cash, we were told. So do drug lords. And the US recently sent $400 million in cash to Iran, which made sense when explained but didn’t look good.

Gone from that NPR conversation was any recognition of the poor, who work as day laborers, and are paid in cash at the end of each day, who do not have bank accounts, who keep their money on their body, who pay rent by the week, who have no credit cards, who sleep in doorways when work is scarce, who would not be better off shopping for their own healthcare than getting a government plan.

There are a great many people living this way. And most of them are invisible to us, though most of us walk by some of them every day.

To be black is another way to be invisible, and dangerously so. Blacks, when seen at all, are often seen as dark and dangerous. When seen by whites, blacks are often seen as being in the wrong place and for no good reason. Every black shooting by police has something of this ‘seeing’ in it, in addition to the suspicion that is normal for police.

To be old is also a way to be invisible. A man in his early 80s told me that when he retired he went from being the boss and being someone people respected, to being an old man to whom people were condescending. You have to growl to get listened to when you are old, he said. I used to say everything with a smile.

Over and over Jesus tells stories that about people who live proper lives yet are sinners, and people who live outside the rules – too dirty, too sick, too illicit – yet are God’s beloved.

And yet there are so many Christian churches that teach personal virtue as the way to God’s heart, and as the true Christian life. Don’t drink, smoke, swear, say the churches. And be pure about your sex life and your marriage.

As if Jesus ever proclaimed any of that. As if he never told stories where fellows like Lazarus, lying in the gutter, foul, filthy, drunk if they could be, and who knows if there had ever been a wife, were not the beloved of Father Abraham’s heart.

As if Father Abraham had not committed his own sins, had not gotten lost, in body, mind and spirit, out there in the wilderness.

As if Jesus had not come into this world to hold Lazarus in his arms.
Lazarus Waiting at the Door. 11 th Century. St. Climint de Taull. Barecelons, Spain. Vanderbilt Divinity School Library, Art in the Christian Tradition.

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