At Arm's Length
“Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.”
These are the words that Abraham tells the rich man who us tormented, and it gives, at least partially, a geography description of the afterlife. Between the realm of the blessed and the damned, there is a large chasm, or canyon, or gulch. My question is, why did God put that there. Or even, did God put it there? That chasm is what captivates my attention this week.
Where did it come from?
Well, I don’t think that God put it there. Certainly, St. Paul tells us that God desires that all people be saved in and through Jesus Christ. I think that the Lord would want to make it easy to reach heaven. And truly He does. He gives us all His grace, He feeds us with His own Body and Blood, He has gone to such great depths to reach us – even across the chasm of sin and death. So if there is a chasm here in this story, who put it there.
Consider the picture that Jesus paints with his parable. The rich mas has his home. He is well-regarded in his town; he eats sumptuously and dresses in the latest fashion. Imagine his return from the synagogue, the market, or the public square. He opens the gate to his home and approaches the front door. There, as usual, is Lazarus – dirty, poor, begging. Imagine the man drawing up his fine robes, stepping over the poor Lazarus, and trying not to even small him. He would have that man be far away from him as he comes and goes.
With every day, every encounter between the rich man and Lazarus, he becomes more and more hardened to his presence and deeper in his desire to be separated from his begging neighbor.
Then they die.
Now, the rich man has what he desired in life – although it is not as he would have wanted it. He sees Lazarus the poor beggar in paradise and immediately begins to plan what that man could do for him. But it is too late, as Abraham tells him. He recognizes the chasm; but his despair over that chasm doesn’t come from a sense of God’s justice. Rather, he knows who put that chasm there.
Each time he shunned Lazarus and others like him, that chasm grew. Each time he chose wealth and status over simply reaching out a helping hand, that chasm grew. Each time he was complacent to the cries of the needy and stretched on his couch of ivory, that chasm grew.
Friends, the story is shared with us not because we are necessarily rich; but because we can be complacent; because we can also look upon others – especially those nearest to us – as “other.” We label them and then exclude them. It is more common that we might believe.
This separation that we choose – over silly things like politics, race, creed, status, etc. – places as heirs to the lot of the rich man. Are we, perhaps, creating our own chasms? The sad irony of this situation is that all it took was the stretching out of a hand to help someone, to acknowledge their humanity and dignity, to close the gap. But we, like the rich man, miss and lose that opportunity – sometimes every day.
There are over seven billion people on this planet. We cannot acknowledge and help all of them. But there are countless “others” whose paths we cross each day. And we are called to take on a Christ-like attitude toward them. They are Lazarus at our door – maybe not even poor, but lonely, rejected, depressed, judged, excluded. Please, let’s not set a chasm between them and us.
Jesus bridges that gap with His own self-emptying love. The Eucharist is the proof and the memorial of that act of infinite love – that no gap, not even sin and death, will keep God from constantly reaching out for us. May we also find that grace here, and reach out to one another with that same Christ-like love.