Sometimes something is right before our face and we do not (cannot/will not?) see it. I have often looked in the fridge or cupboard for something and cannot see it. I look and look and look but it isn’t there – well it is but I do not see it. Perhaps it was in a slightly different position or had a different label or looked different for some reason and I didn’t see it. I rant and rave or ask nicely where such and such is and someone else calmly replies that it is right there in front of me and I express my conviction that it certainly isn’t. That person comes over and lifts the desired object out of the fridge, cupboard… with a knowing smile that indicates I haven’t looked or need my glasses… That which is before us is so obvious that we look past or through it. Sometimes the something is a person.
There used to be all manner of people who wandered through Parramatta. There was one woman who pushed her trolley with a range of objects in it. For the most part people ignored her, took a wide berth and probably never really noticed her until they got in her way or looked at her strangely… She would then erupt with abuse and threatening language that would scare people off. There were others, many homeless people, who wandered through the streets or sat quietly in parks or under bridges. These were people who largely went unnoticed until they were pointed out. I went walking a few times with welfare staff and they pointed out people, gave them their proper names and told me something of their stories. These were people who had not existed in my experience or observation previously. They were there but I didn’t see them, just as I had failed to really see those who lived with mental illness and existed within our midst in the city. It wasn’t until we began work with people who lived with various forms of mental illness that I began to see these people, faces in a crowd who walked with head down or failed to get out at all and remained hidden.
I listened to a hauntingly ominous report this morning on ABC radio about the current state of the earth as a result of climate change. The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a panel of UN scientific experts) reported that the current situation is far worse than expected. They say, “Sea levels are rising, ice is melting and animals are changing their habitats due to human activities.” This latest study focusses on warming oceans and melting ice and presents the most difficult and threatening report to date. For many, this is a ‘something’ before our eyes that scientific experts are absolutely convinced of. The effects and impact are there before us. We see it in the leaching of colour in the coral on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef due to warming waters. We can see the impacts on rising ocean levels, along with the impact on warming oceans and currents across the world. This is a ‘something’ that the young can see before them and want their elders, who have power and capacity to change things, to act now! Some see clearly whilst others don’t, can’t or won’t see.
There are many other issues that are before our eyes but we do not, will not or cannot see. Poverty within many of our communities. Domestic violence and the harm done to many women, children and some men. The alienation of Aboriginal people within their own lands is alarming and distressing, as is the loss of culture, language and traditions that have existed for millennia on this continent. Poverty on our doorstep in nations such as West Papua amongst the indigenous people and especially their current suffering at the hands of Indonesian authorities. The situation of modern slavery that is rising and impacts millions of people, many of whom make our cheap clothing, or supply our chocolate, coffee and tea. The desperation of asylum seekers across the world is overwhelming and exacerbated by the ways they are treated through various forms of processing and the difficulties that arise for them when there is nowhere to go.
In a small and somewhat strange story this week (Luke 16:19-31), we read of a rich man who lives well. He has plenty to eat, a comfortable place to sleep and rest and security and comfort in life. At his gate a poor man begged. His name was Lazarus and he longed for even the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. He was so pathetic in his poverty that the dogs licked his sores. He died and was carried into the heavenly realm where the great Jewish patriarch, Abraham, cared for him and gave him something of that which he never received in life.
The rich man also died but in a strange twist, congruent with ancient tales from various cultures, he was taken into another place where he suffered. There was a deep chasm between the two but they could see one another. The rich man looked and saw Abraham and, for the first time, noticed the poor man, Lazarus, who had lain at his gate every pathetic day of his life. He begged Abraham to let Lazarus to come and relieve him of his suffering or at least dip his finger in water and quench the horrible thirst of his tongue and mouth. But alas, Abraham pointed to the deep chasm between them.
The rich man then begged for Abraham to send a messenger to his relatives below and warn them but again, Abraham declined. He told the man that they had everything they needed to be warned, to understand how to live justly and rightly in the world. There were prophets, wise ones, laws and wise writings and if they opened their own eyes they would see the injustice, poverty and struggle that existed all around them. If they didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t, then they were not going to believe someone telling them to do right.
This is a harsh and strange story that speaks into the reversal of things. Usually the wealthy were revered as being blessed by God (sadly this bizarre thinking punctuates some religious thinking still today!) and the poor were being punished for some unknown sin. This story invites us into a place where we begin to ‘see’ in a new way and recognise in the face of the suffering, the disenfranchised, the poor our own vulnerable place in the world. These are our brothers and sisters. These are the little ones that God has a special place for; not because they are better or more deserving than others but because God is just, loving and gracious and seeks a just and fair way for all people – and for the creatures of the earth and the earth itself. When we fail to see the reality before us, to view life from other perspectives we may well become comfortable with the status quo and protect our own privilege against the unjust suffering of another. When we have the resources to make a difference but won’t because we refuse to see or act, we are working against the ways of God, the goodness and justice built into creation and given to humans to sustain. Ultimately we will deny ourselves the true life and joy we believe we are hanging onto. As we deny life to people and the earth itself, we are destroying our own well-being and the relationships that will help us survive and thrive. We nurture fear, chaos and conflict.
Love, truth and peace require open eyes, hearts and minds, along with a will to love.