“Is our Heart Closed to the Lazarus Next to Us?” Lk 16:19-31 (9/29/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
One of the chilling things about the rich man in the parable today is how close this man in need was. We read that Lazarus was “lying at his door…covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” He was lying at his door, day after day it seems. Even the dogs came to lick his sores, but the rich man doesn’t seem to pay him any heed at all. His heart was closed to his neighbor, so close at hand.
Our 1st Reading echoes this. “Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches…They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils; yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!” The collapse of Joseph doesn’t affect them at all. Their hearts are closed to the pain and hardship of another.
The thing is: We have only one heart. The heart with which we deal with our neighbor is the same heart with which we deal with God. A heart closed to others is also a heart closed to God. And it works the other way too. The more our hearts are open to the Lord in prayer, in true prayer, the more we bring this same heart to others as well.
On a lighter note, I can’t pass up the line in our 1st Reading about those “improvising to the music of the harp. Like David, they devise their own accompaniment.” I suppose it’s speaking of the haughty who think they’re like King David. But, in a different way, is it also describing the sister next to you in choir?! Devising her own accompaniment, improvising to her own music, marching to her own drum! These little things too can be the sores we find on the Lazarus close to us.
We have our own neighbor at our doorstep each day. The sister in community, those we live with. Our interactions in community often fall short of perfection, and we can get caught up in this. But do we forget about the deep pain and affliction that our neighbor may be suffering deep within? I heard a doctor giving a presentation once say, “One thing that everyone in this room has in common is that we are all suffering in some way.” That’s so true. And this pain can come out unexpected ways in our dealings with other.
Right? A very cold or distant person may be that way because of the interior pain he suffered in earlier relationships. A proud and arrogant person may be that way because he is compensating for an interior lack of self-esteem. A combative person may still be dealing with pain he suffered from former defeats. This is the neighbor at our doorstep with his own sores and wounds that the dogs come and lick. We need to recognize this kind of poor Lazarus too, and not close our heart to him however difficult he may be to deal with at times.
St. Isaac of Syria says, “Instead of an avenger, be a deliverer. Instead of a faultfinder, be a soother. Instead of a betrayer, be a martyr. Instead of a chider, be a defender…With the afflicted, be afflicted in mind.” “You [as monk or nun] have not been appointed to decree vengeance upon men’s deeds and works, but rather to ask for mercy for the world, to keep vigil for the salvation of all, and to partake in every man’s suffering, both the just and sinners.” “At that hour, you will be a martyr in very truth and will be like Him Who for the sake of sinners accepted death on the Cross” (456-7).
So that’s the answer for us: Jesus, the man for others, who out of compassion for others accepted the Cross, whose heart was brought near to theirs. When we draw close to Jesus, we share in his own heart; his own heart for others. Jesus did not only draw close to us with our sores and wounds and hunger, he took these things on himself in utter compassion. And he draws us into that same loving compassion.
And in monastic life, it’s important to see how your neighbor is not just the one at your side, but the whole world. Evagrius says, “Apart from all, to all we are united.” Apart from all, in the monastery, you are united to all, especially in the mystical Body of the Church. We don’t want an accusation like that of our 1st reading to hit us, ‘yet they are not affected by the collapse of Joseph!’…they are not affected by the sufferings of the Church.
You all certainly have a heart for the Church, and we certainly don’t want to overdo it, but it is helpful to be reminded. And it can help to see your sufferings, those sufferings that inherently come along with living the monastic life, in these terms. Your heart is being broken open more, to reach out more in mind and heart to the sufferings of others. You are being drawn more into the compassionate heart of Jesus, into the wounded and broken heart of Jesus. There, you are sharing in the work of salvation for others. In your suffering, offered in love, with Jesus, you are furthering the work of salvation.
I’ll leave you with a few lines from our sister, St Catherine of Siena, and her heart burning with love for the Church. She says in a letter to Raymond of Capua, “I die and I cannot die, my heart breaks and it cannot break, with the desire I have for the renewal of the Church.”
And on her deathbed, she prayed, “O eternal God, receive the sacrifice of my life in this mystical body of holy Church. I have nothing to give except what you have given me, so take my heart and may Thy Bride lean her face upon it.”
And at one point, God told Catherine what he probably also tells us, “Take your tears and your sweat, drawn from the fountain of my divine love, and with them, wash the face of my Spouse [the Church].”