Many people used to come to Mother Teresa. They wanted to get involved in her work. Mother Teresa being a wise woman could tell if they had what it took to work with her sisters. Most of the time she would smile and tell them gently, “Go back to your home and find your own Calcutta.” In other words, bloom where you are planted and tend to the needs of others where you live.
The rich man in the gospel is not condemned because he is rich. He is condemned because he never saw Lazarus, who lived out his miserably poor life right outside his gate. When he did see him, it was too late. Perhaps, one of the most terrifying dangers in having possessions is that they threaten us with blindness. The sin of the rich man was not that he ordered Lazarus removed from his property—he didn’t. It was not that he kicked Lazarus or shouted obscenities at him as he passed–he didn’t.
The sin of the rich man was simply that he never noticed Lazarus. He accepted him as part of the landscape of life. The sin of the rich man was that he accepted, without question, the fact that Lazarus was poor and he was rich. The sin of the rich man was not a sin of commission; which is doing something he should not have done. The sin of the rich man was a sin of omission, which is not doing something he should have done.
The sin of the rich man was basking in his own personal wealth, and not lifting a finger to help Lazarus in his dire need. The sin of the rich man was the same sin that is being committed over and over today. It is this sin that is beginning to cause grave concern. Not only because of what it is doing to the poor but also because of what it is doing to society. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor it cannot save the few who are rich.
In other words, our lack of concern for the poor is destroying not only the poor but also the very moral fabric of our society. The Lazarus’s of the world do not always want material help. Sometimes they need emotional and spiritual support, an ear to listen, a hand to touch. Find your own Calcutta; it is probably nearer than you ever imagined. Raise your eyes to see the Lazarus’s among us.
I want to tell you about a young man, Jeff, a resident of St. Christopher’s Inn (SCI). SCI is a drug and alcohol rehab recovery treatment program as a ministry of the Friars of the Atonement. He was mandated by a judge to go into a drug recovery program. He was uncooperative and incorrigible. Jeff would normally be asked to leave, but we cut him some slack because if he left he would go to jail. But he was still a problem client. It was a very cold winter and a company had given a large consignment of blankets to the Inn—more than we could use. We decided to take some blankets to the city and give them out to the homeless.
A Friar and five men went in the van to distribute the blankets and, by some mistake, Jeff was included. When they arrived at the location a large crowd of homeless gathered around the van. When all the blankets were given out, the men got back in the van to return to the Inn. Jeff was in the front seat next to the Friar and it had started to snow. When the Friar looked down, Jeff had no shoes on. The Friar asked, “Jeff where are your shoes?”
Jeff answered, “I gave a man a blanket but he had no shoes, so I gave him mine.” He found his own Calcutta. It was a gospel moment. From that time on Jeff’s whole attitude changed. He started to cooperate with the program, and today, he is happily married with two children. So the question is does your heart go out to others? Or are you just nice to the beautiful people…to the educated, sophisticated and the smart?
What about the others, those who bore you or those you simply cannot stand? Those who ask not for money or food, but for your time and your compassion and understanding? For your comfort, few if any of you, will be asked by the Lord to sell what you possess and give it to the poor. But for your discomfort every single one of you will be asked by the Lord, how much did you care and for whom? Look around you, your own Calcutta is closer than you think.