9-20-16 - Licking Wounds

Whenever I’ve contemplated Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus, I’ve focused on the wealth disparity, Lazarus’ hunger, the crumbs from the rich man’s table. What leapt out at me this time is that twice in a very short tale Jesus refers to the man’s sores, and the fact that the dogs would come and lick them. Though the “ick” factor in focusing on this is rather high, it’s where I’m drawn today.

‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

Was it comforting to Lazarus to have the dogs lick his sores, or disgusting and frightening, intensifying his sense of helplessness? Did the sores become even more infected, or were they cleansed? Are the dogs’ presence an indication of his isolation from human company, or did it make him feel connected to life? Does Jesus mention the sores to indicate just how wretched this poor man was, so close to wealth and yet completely deprived of life’s necessities?

It’s just a story, Kate! It’s a parable Jesus told to make a point. Well, yes. But every element in a parable is fair game as we try to get inside Jesus’ stories. And this detail makes Lazarus so real for us. Suddenly we see him outside a gate in Calcutta or Kinshasa or New York. The rich man who came and went by that gate did not see him,or chose to ignore him. The dogs came close, close enough to lick his sores.

I don’t know why Jesus included this detail about the dogs; likely it wasn’t meant as a positive, dogs not being regarded as precious in his day as they are in our own. But it suggests to me coming close – close to a hurting person and his wounds. Jesus also came so close to those who were overlooked or rejected by humankind. He touched lepers whom others were afraid to come near. He sat with prostitutes and extortioners cast out of polite society. He even had tete-a-tetes with the rich and powerful like Nicodemus. Jesus did not hold himself away. And when Jesus died and rose from the dead, he invited his followers to come so close as to put their hands inside his wounds.

This God whom we worship in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, this is the God who does not hold himself away. Wherever pain and loss and illness and despair are, there is Jesus, the gentle hound of heaven, saying, “You can ignore me, as though I were a dog, but I am here, and I will be here. I am not going away. My closeness might make you uncomfortable, but I am here to heal your wounds and restore you to wholeness.”

Maybe as more of us choose to draw near to those who suffer, there will fewer people like Lazarus dying of hunger and preventable diseases. Oh wait, I forgot again.. it’s only a story... or is it?

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