I first heard the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man when I was in middle school choir. My teacher picked the song “Poor Man Lazarus” for a concert. I still remember wondering how to make sense of the story. I didn’t identify as Lazarus – materially poor and lacking ability. Yet I didn’t see myself as the Rich Man – condemned to hell because I couldn’t see of myself as materially rich and full of privilege.
We can also think about Lazarus and the Rich Man in terms of how we understand our racial identities. However we identify and experience life, we all have preconceived notions of people who are not racially us. And these impact us how we make choices whether we are aware or not.
However we identify and experience life, we all have preconceived notions of people who are not racially us. #BreakForth #Lent2018Click to tweet
Perhaps that’s where we find ourselves in the work of racial justice – moving from a position of racially exclusive (the Rich Man) to becoming the Poor Man (standing with the most marginalized). It seems to me that many of us work tirelessly to ensure we’re not the Rich Man who stands to reinforce his privilege and status in this life at the expense of others. Instead, we see ourselves as moving towards the Poor Man.
And this is where the light breaks forth this Lent – through the realization that we’re headed in the right direction but we’re not yet there. Most of us are working each day to be more racially inclusive. It inevitably will take all of our lives, and longer, to build a truly racially just community. Let’s pray that we might position ourselves in the direction of Lazarus – recognizing that if we’re not cautious, we may easily find ourselves in the Rich Man – thinking of ourselves now and later asking Lazarus to free us from sins against those who are different than us.
What might happen if each day, we examine how we make judgments based on racial differences? Would we find ourselves, as Greg Boyle, S.J., suggests, standing with the demonized until all we’re left with is kinship? Could this be a sign of the tender compassion of God breaking forth the light of dawn upon us?
Lucas Sharma, S.J., is a Jesuit-in-formation of the Jesuits West Province and a student at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. Previously, he taught sociology at Seattle University. He is especially interested in the intersection between diversity, equity, inclusion, and Jesuit Catholic identity and mission. When not studying, Lucas loves to cook and watch the soap opera General Hospital.