Noticing the Nobodies

Do we notice the “Other,” those who are different than ourselves? Or when we notice that they are different than us, how do we look upon them? How do we treat them?

God created the world into a community of love. He meant for all of us to live in harmony with one another. A Family of Love! Yet, when sin entered the world, we humans broke up God’s community of love, and began dividing the world into the “us” and the “them” categories. The “us” are people like ourselves, with whom we identify. The “them” are the strangers, those who are different, those who we may not understand, and thus, reject. In the Old Testament, we see the “us” as Israel (the people of God), and the “them” as the Gentiles. Yet, today, how many ways do we divide the world in different ways:

 - Americans                 foreigners (or despised immigrants/strangers)

 - Westerners                non-westerner - Christians                

-  Muslims or non- Christians

- Democrats/liberals    Republicans/conservatives

- middle class/rich       poor

- insiders                      outsiders

Ultimately, we divide the world into the “somebodies” (who are us) and the nobodies (who are those different than us)!   

I’ll never forget a talk I heard from Fr. Anthony Gittens, a Roman Catholic priest who works among the “nobodies” in Chicago. “We cannot get into the kingdom of God” he emphasized, “until we move from the VIP category, the somebody category, and reach out to the outsider category, to the nobodies of the world! Again, let me repeat, if the only person we meet daily is the person in the mirror, people like ourselves, then we’ll never enter into God’s Kingdom!”

In the life of Jesus, we continuously see him reach out to the nobodies of the world – to sinners, to prostitutes, to thieves, to lepers, to the poor and lame, to the marginalized, to the forgotten of the world. Our Lord’s entire ministry was one of reaching out to those rejected by the world. “I came not to condemn the world,” Christ taught, “but to save the world. I came to seek the lost. I came to reach out to the sinners!” I came to bring good news to the world!

Today’s gospel reading is a perfect example about the Rich Man and the poor beggar Lazarus. We see clearly the sin of consciously ignoring, or even unconsciously not noticing the poor and needy who pass through our lives every day.  In the Gospel, we hear about a rich man who had many things, including a beautiful house and fine clothes.  Every day he ate plenty, and filled his life with different luxuries, comforts and pleasures. Whenever he would walk out of his house, however, he would pass a poor man named Lazarus. This man had nothing.  He was a beggar, with torn clothing, little to eat, and sores covering his body.  Lazarus would sit outside, begging and hoping in the mercy of God, and the mercy of the people who passed by. Day after day, the rich man walked past Lazarus, without ever helping him, without ever noticing him!

Jesus concludes the Gospel by saying that Lazarus went to paradise, while the rich man went to hell. 

This doesn’t have to do with riches and poverty. Some poor people are saints, and other poor people are criminals. Lazarus’s virtue was not that he was poor, but that in his poverty, he did not try to steal or cheat. In his suffering he did blame others for his situation. In his desperate situation, he did not justify himself in judging and condemning those better off than himself. No, in his poverty and need, he placed all his hope in God and didn’t fall into despair. This is what Jesus meant in his beatitudes when he taught, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

As for the rich man, he did not go to hell because he was wealthy. His main sin is that he DID NOT NOTICE the poor man right outside his door. Daily he walked out of his house, and either consciously or unconsciously passed by the poor man without even noticing him. In other words, his sin was not something that he did, but something that he did not do.

How often do we fall into the same temptation?  We walk out of the church, having heard the Gospel lesson to notice and help the poor, and yet we still do not see the poor who are begging for our help. So often, we are quick to judge the poor as lazy people who don’t want to work, yet, can we say we really know their situation? Have we sincerely befriended the poor, and listened to their story?

And the poor are not only those who have material needs. The greatest poverty here in America is the poverty of loneliness, the poverty of feeling unloved, the poverty of feeling unwanted. Thus, God calls us to give of our finances for those less fortunate, but He also commands us to give of ourselves – to give our time and our attention, to give our love to those around us.

How are we reaching out to the “nobodies” of the world, and noticing them? How are we making them feel loved, a part of the somebodies of the world? To love, we must meet the other. We must encounter the other. We must engage the other. We can’t say we love the nobodies of the world, if we don’t know them? Who are the nobodies around us? The illegal immigrants (even legal immigrants and foreigners). The forgotten elderly in our nursing homes. The homebound.  The alcoholics and drug addicts. The poor and destitute. The homeless on the street.

How many of us can say we really know these people? It’s not enough to say we know about the marginalized. It’s not enough to send a check to a homeless shelter to help the needy. As followers of Jesus, we need to encounter and to engage with the destitute.

Knowing “about” the poor is no better than knowing “about God.” Our faith is one of encountering God. Of coming in contact with Him and knowing Him. And Christ teaches us that one way we come to know Him is through knowing the poor and needy. “What you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me.”

There is a story of a wise rabbi who asked his students, “When does the night end and the day begin?” One student responded, “When we can look in the distance and distinguish between two kinds of trees.” A good answer, but not the right one.  A second student said, “When we look into the distance and can distinguish a white thread from a black one.” A good answer, but not the right one. And after a few more attempts, the students gave up. The rabbi then answered his own question, “We know that the night has ended and the day has begun when we can look at each person we meet, no matter who they are, and see them as our brother and sister.”

Let us reflect today on how we divide the world into the “us”es and “thems”, to the somebodies and the nobodies, and then let us follow the call of our Lord Jesus to reach out to the other, to encounter the other in a concrete manner, to come to know the other in a personal and intimate way!

For we will only enter into the Kingdom of God when we learn to notice the other, to treat the other - the nobodies of the world - as precious children of God!

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