Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lift Up Your Eyes and See Clearly the Needs of Others

Living in the swamps of South Carolina I have come to accept my morning drive to school in the fog. Sometimes the morning fog is so thick I can barely see one block in front of the car especially in the low areas where the road crosses the swamp. The fog just billows across the windshield. It is all I can do to keep the car from going off the road. When I look straight down everything seems perfectly clear. I can see my own feet and my own shoes and my own clothes. Of course I can’t drive the car that way…I have to lift up my eyes and look ahead before I realize that what I thought was clear was actually dense fog.

This morning St. Luke tells us about two people living in the dense fog of life. A rich man who had everything he ever wanted and a poor beggar named Lazarus. “So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torment in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” (Luke 16.22-23)

While he was alive the rich man spent his days looking down and focusing his attention only on himself and his own needs. The Gospel tells us the rich man “was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” (Luke 16.19) He was the picture of wealth. He had fine clothes and good food but we can be sure that he spent his days in a fog because he was staring down only at himself so he never noticed the danger ahead. All he saw was his warm clean expensive clothes, his clean warm slippers, and plenty of delicious food on his table. In the meantime he could not see the needs of Lazarus lying across his door. He was headed for a life a torment in hell not because he was rich but because he didn’t look up to see the fog and the dangerous road ahead.

When he finally did look up it was too late. He was dead. If he had looked up earlier he would have seen Lazarus lying there and been able to help him. After all he couldn’t miss Lazarus because he was lying across the door. The rich man could not enter or exit his dining room without stepping over Lazarus but all he could see was his own flowing robes and not the suffering human being under his feet. When he finally gazed up he saw, in reality, his own judgment in Lazarus. Christ says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.” (Matthew 25.41-43) Lazarus was all these things and the rich man, looking out only for himself, ignored him.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, do we know anyone named Lazarus? Florence County has more than 1,500 homeless people named Lazarus. You won’t see them in the phone book but they are there. They each have their own names but Lazarus seems to be appropriate because how we treat them will be our judgment just as it was the rich man’s judgment. They will continue to suffer if we cannot take the time to take our eyes off ourselves and lift up our eyes and see their needs.

Looking up is the only way we can truly be human and be saved. The very word for human being, ἀνθρωπος in Greek, means “one who looks up.” If we go through life staring down at the ground it is impossible to focus our attention on life around us. In the Divine Liturgy we say, “Let us lift up our hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.” If lifting our eyes up is gazing upon God as we heard in the Gospel: “He lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham,” (Luke 16.23) then we have to presume that looking down is staring into hell. As long as the rich man was staring down at his own wealth he was staring into hell. The only way we can gaze up into heaven is to lift up our eyes and see the needs of people around us.

1,500 homeless people in Florence County are a lot of people with a lot of needs, but we can’t be discouraged and think we aren’t able to help them or that their needs are too great. We must begin somewhere, so let’s begin with learning an example from the rich man in this morning’s Gospel. We are blessed today to hear, directly from God, what hell will be like. The rich man was in hell with no hope of comfort because, even though he was suffering the torture of hell, he couldn’t stop thinking about himself. So we must lift up our eyes and not only see the needs of others but do something about it.

Thanksgiving is in a few weeks and most of us will be enjoying a big full feast with our families while 1,500 of our brothers and sisters don’t even have a home to gather in to give thanks. Let’s make a commitment this year to ease the suffering of some of our brothers and sisters. The Harvest Hope Food Bank distributes 100 pounds of food per person each year although the need is much greater.

I know some of us here today have experienced the pain of being hungry. I have heard many stories about war-time and post-war poverty in Greece, so today I am inviting you to recall that pain and lift up your eyes to our brothers and sisters in Florence. By each of us bringing two pounds of food for the Food Basket in the Narthex each week we can supply Harvest Hope with enough food to feed our whole Church for the year. Then we will be able to say we have lifted our eyes and seen that the Lord was hungry and fed Him.

Going through life looking down doesn’t always give us a clear picture. It doesn’t do me any good driving in the morning fog and it doesn’t do us any good trying to get to Heaven. Sometimes we just have to look up and see the struggles of those around us. We have to lift up our eyes and set our eyes upon God and help those around us. Eventually the fog clears in the morning Sun and we see clearly and we will see clearly when we lift up our eyes and see the Son of God. And then He will say to us, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food.” (Matthew 25.34-35)


Anonymous said...

Where did you find the definition of the Greek words "human being"?

Fr. Athanasios C Haros said...

GREAT question! Ἀνω τρόπος has been associated with not only walking in an upright fashion but, by default also looking up since on "all fours" we look down.