Major Ann Braund | Facing Lazarus
In the early hours of the morning, those hours between deep sleep and wakefulness, I dreamed that a stranger had entered our home. As I was walking up the stairs I saw him standing on the landing just inside our front door. My first response was fear. I shouted and demanded he leave and not harm us. In my dream I felt corrected and sensed the need to ‘redo’ the scene. The second time through I saw the same man but this time I noticed he did not have a coat, he looked cold and confused. In my ‘redo’ I said to the man, “you look cold – come wrap yourself in this warm blanket, I will make some tea and we can talk about what is going on in your life.” When I awoke I wondered where that dream had come from and what I should do with it. With a little reflection I remembered hearing a news report of a home invasion where an intruder had left a woman badly beaten, hence my fearful first response. The second scene came in response to a book I had been reading, Becoming Human by Jean Vanier.
Vanier reflects on a moving story told by Jesus. There was a beggar named Lazarus who lived in the streets. He was hungry and his legs were covered with sores. Living opposite him, in a beautiful house, was a rich man who used to give big parties for his friends. Lazarus would have like to have eaten some of the crumbs that fell from his table but the dogs ate them up. One day, Lazarus died and went to the place of peace, in the “heart of Abraham.” The rich man also died and he went to the “place of torment.” Looking up, he saw Lazarus radiant with peace and he cried out: “Father Abraham please send Lazarus down to put some water on my lips for I am in pain!” Abraham responded: “It is impossible. Between you and him there is an abyss that nobody can cross.” He could have added: “Just as there had been an abyss between you and him during your life on earth.”
This story of Lazarus tells us a lot about today’s world, where there is a huge abyss between those who have food, money and comfort and those who are hungry and have no place of their own. Vanier writes, “I suspect that we exclude Lazarus because we are frightened that our hearts will be touched if we enter into a relationship with him. If we listen to his story and hear his cry of pain we will discover that he is a human being. We might want to do something to comfort and help him, to alleviate his pain, and where will that lead us? As we enter into dialogue with a beggar, we risk entering into an adventure. Because Lazarus needs not only money but also a place to stay, medical treatment, maybe work and even more, he needs friendship.
Fear is at the root of all forms of exclusion. We are frightened of those who are different from us, those who challenge our certitudes and our value system. Fear makes us push ‘the different’ away. Fear prevents us with the price of a meal in our pocket from sharing with the Lazarus’s of the world.
Who are the different? They are the people who suffer poverty, brokenness, disabilities, or loneliness. They cry out to us for help, these millions named Lazarus. Their cries become dangerous for us who live in comfort. If we listen to their cries and open up our hearts, it will cost us something.
According to Vanier becoming human involves a movement from exclusion to inclusion, an opening of ourselves to a few who are different and becoming their friends. God used the voice of Vanier in my dream to challenge my fear of welcoming and befriending the stranger.