My first year of undergrad was spent at the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt is located in an urban neighborhood called Oakland, and, like many densely populated areas where people travel by foot, was home to several panhandlers. By the time Christmas rolled around, I had already figured out how to be like the rich man in Sunday’s Gospel lesson and not see the beggars who sat at the proverbial gate of campus. They were passive annoyances, easy to pass right on by as if they never existed.
There were a few who were more engaged in their craft. One guy stood at the door in front of the Rite Aid store in such a manner that only he could open it. Whether you were coming or going, you were at this man’s leisure to let you in or out. He had a white Styrofoam cup in hand. It would jingle with a few coins as he reached to open the door. it was clear that he expected to be paid for the service he rendered, whether you asked for it or not. He wasn’t as easy to ignore. You saw this man, but what I saw was simply an annoyance I had to get past. I never saw him as a human being upon which I should have compassion.
It isn’t hard to be like the rich man. Whether our ignorance of someone is active or passive; or if we see them, judge them, and cast them aside, we are no better than the rich man, no matter how poor we might be relative to his purple robes, linen suits, fatted calves, and fine wines. And while it suits Luke’s theological narrative to have this be about rich and poor, I don’t think it is only about that. Our inability to see another as beloved of God happens again and again, everyday, in every aspect of life. We see the Republican is a xenophobic rube. We see the Democrat as a bleeding heart sap. We see the Terence Crutcher and other big black men as “bad dudes.” We see police officers as trigger happy symptoms of systemic racism.
Every time we fail to see another human being as beloved of God, we sin in the same way the rich man did. As his siblings still on earth, we have a chance to repent. We have Moses. We have the prophets. We even have someone who rose from the dead. We have eyes to see. We have hearts to love. Who and what do you see?