Beyond Mere Appearance

Sunday November 7, 2021; 20th Sunday after Pentecost

Galatians 1:11-19
Luke 16:19-31

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ. Glory forever. A classic Danish film portrays the theme of this morning’s gospel in the person of a French maid. Babette’s Feast features a penniless woman cast out by circumstances in her home country to foreign land in the north. Like poor Lazarus, she arrives at the home of two unmarried sisters cold, alone, and in need of help. But if a person were to conclude that Babette’s outward circumstances defined her inward disposition, they would be wrong. For while she was poor in possessions, her artistic soul made her rich beyond the reach of mere circumstance. As the apostle says, “…being poor, yet making many rich“, she managed in the end to exhaust her entire bank account towards a feast for her friends.

By contrast the rich man in this morning parable made no proper use of his wealth. Scripture says he wore fine clothes, ate fine food, and possessed everything one could desire. Though he outwardly possessed everything to make him rich, he was actually quite poor in good deeds. Even the poor man Lazarus who sat daily by his own gate went completely unnoticed by all but the dogs who are kind enough to lick his sores. Truly the rich man was actually poor, and the poor man possessed hidden riches. For when both of them died, Lazarus was exalted and the outwardly rich man humbled. It was as if death became the great illuminator, the revealer of their respective souls. And while the rich man suffered in Hades, his heart does not change. For he asks Lazarus to comfort him in his distress, treating Lazarus in the same way he did in his entire life: as a servant to his own needs. Both Lazarus and the rich man at the moment of death revealed their true inner nature.

It is the same with any person created in the image and likeness of God. We need to stop judging by mere appearance and see the unseen disposition of the heart for better or for worse. For it is these inward dispositions that make us truly rich or unknowingly poor. C.S. Lewis in his essay the Weight of Glory comments on the importance of seeing the unseen in our neighbors:

Icon of All Saints

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

May he who deigned be born in a cave and hide his divinity in the humblest of circumstances teach us to look beyond mere appearance. May we learn look beyond the temporal and love what is eternal in everyone we meet. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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