Small lidded soapstone ring box purchased at tourist shop in Calcutta (2003). My sister Jeanne kept it for me until her death.
The Rich Man and Lazarus Luke 16: 19 & ff
(story about meeting a beggar boy when with some tourists in Calcutta)
One afternoon we took a cab to a downtown 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
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. Calcutta
But as I sat inside waiting for my companions the boy kept up a vigil within sight of me through the plate glass doors of the entrance. He stared at me and every once in a while our eyes met. No doubt his handlers trained him in this stare convinced that it would finally shame the target into making a donation.
It worked but in this unexpected way. Sitting there I saw 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.
Myself and my companions as well, we all gave him some money as we left that tourist 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 future would be the hardness of the street. At best when he got older he could use his skill to get other boys to work for him the way he himself was working in some syndicate of beggars.
As this boy’s face lingers in my memory, so, too, does the lesson I learned that day. We are all poor beggars lacking the means to a secure destiny. Our destiny is with the Lord Jesus who empties himself and makes himself like us. Jesus offers us the destiny of freedom from sin and the security of salvation.
The plate glass doors separating me from the beggar boy were the chasm of the scriptures that separated the Rich Man from Lazarus. But God’s mercy and the boys’ eyes created a bridge across the chasm. Not that either one of us changed much. Yes, my companions and I gave him a pittance and I learned a lesson about my own poverty. A fragile, fleeting bridge to be sure. But if I am to meet anyone in the afterlife, this boy will be among them. And I will thank him for teaching me something about the human condition.