If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” Luke 16: 31
Here is the story of an unlikely voice, taking the place of that poor Lazarus whom the richman Dives wants to send as a messenger to us, warning us against the security that we place in our possessions.
In 2003 I traveled with a group of lay colleagues to India in the IIIE (Ignatian International Immersion Experience) program to see the Jesuit works there. We visited Calcutta, a perplexing place where the trappings of contemporary life meet teeming crowds of the poor. One afternoon our group took a cab to a craft shop that catered to tourists; some of us wanted to purchase gifts to take home. I finished my shopping first and decided to wait for the others outside on the crowded street hoping to find some rhyme or reason to the riddle of Calcutta. I found something that surprised me. A beggar boy of about ten, no doubt carefully trained and rewarded for his skill, began to pester me for a handout. I resisted and decided to go back into the store knowing that the guard would prevent him from coming in. The plate glass doors, I knew, would become, in Abraham’s phrase, “a great chasm” to prevent that boy from crossing.
But as I sat inside waiting for my companions the boy kept up a vigil within sight of me through these same plate glass doors. He kept staring at me and every once in a while our eyes would meet. No doubt his handlers trained him in this stare knowing that it would finally shame the target into making a donation.
It worked. But in this unexpected way. Sitting there I heard the eyes of that beggar boy telling me that I was no better off than he. In the great scheme of things, his eyes said, we are both beggars lacking the means to a secure destiny. And I heard Jesus’ question from the scripture: “Which of you by worrying can add even a cubit to your stature?” His stare said to me: “you are poor like me; we are all poor; and the poor always share what little they have.” The boy crossed the chasm. He had nothing to lose and it was clear who was the vulnerable one.
Myself and my companions as well, we all gave him some money as we left that fancy shop and it was all we could do to tumble into a cab before other beggars came to besiege us. I have no illusions about that boy…. His only future was the hardness of the street. But I am praying that I have something positive to tell him when we meet in the world to come.