Seen and Unseen

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time | September 29, 2019

See today’s readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading. The archive of all of Fr. Brian’s homilies can be found here: Salesian Sermons


A few years ago, I was watching a video of a fascinating social experiment.

This research team knew that certain people walked down a particular stretch of sidewalk in NYC day after day.

So they dressed up their loved ones as homeless women and men and asked them to sit against the walls that their subjects would soon pass.

    Not a single person stopped.  

They walked right by their husbands and wives. Their parents and children.

        All without a second glance.

Now, there was a time when I would have been shocked. But not today.

For when I was a senior in college, I was part of my own social experiment as I chose to live as a homeless man in Washington DC for 48 hours.

And I remember most vividly how I disappeared from the sight of the collective stream of tourists and residents.

I simply became an unpleasant reminder of things that made them uncomfortable.

Of a broken economic system that allows people to live without housing. That accepts that people will go hungry. That has no qualms about people dying without access to insulin or chemotherapy or basic antibiotics because they cannot pay.

    But there was a moment when that all changed.

    An old friend from high school just happened to be walking by when she saw me.

        Truly saw me.

She did not walk by. She did not flinch from my grime, my stench, my look of utter defeat, desperation, and fear.

She came up, embraced me, and said. Brian, I don’t know what happened. But I’ll take you home.

I’ve never forgotten that moment. For there is nothing more healing or liberating than being seen.

I am convinced that this is the true lesson at the heart of this Gospel.

For the rich man in our parable does not appear malicious. He does not seem to go out of his way to make Lazarus’s life difficult.

On the contrary, he just never sees Lazarus. He never sees his poverty. His wounds. His suffering.

And in his blindness, we are challenged to acknowledge our own.

My friends, we are surrounded by people who never feel seen.

There are kids who eat alone at lunch. Who sit alone in dorm rooms on a Friday night. Who walk the halls just wishing that someone bothered enough to learn their name.

There are colleagues at work who have been sexually assaulted, children who have been abused and neighbors cowering in fear of their partners.

There are people who stand in lines at checkouts praying the credit card won’t bounce, leaving them hungry that night. There are parents who send their sons outside in violence plagued streets wondering if they will return. There are children who sit at home, wondering if their parents have been apprehended by ICE.

There are women nursing the scars of an abortion and hiding the pregnancy test. There are patients in nursing homes, no longer visited, no longer remembered. There are gay children terrified to come out of the closet for fear of what their family, their church will say. There are parents sitting on beds clutching photos of children they have lost.

There are family members struggling with anxiety and depression and classmates who are suicidal and friends who look in the mirror and are convinced that they are unlovable.

And let’s be honest. There are even days when we feel unseen. When our own crosses and stresses, our own wounds and brokeness, our own failures weigh heavy on our hearts. And no one seems to notice. No one seems to care.

And yet, in response to it all, we have this Gospel.  Jesus proclaiming through story the great truth of Christianity.

    Which is that we are all seen by our God.

No matter who we are. Where we’ve been. What we’ve done.

We are seen. We matter. We are loved. By a God who reaches out her arms to embrace us to her bosom.

A God who demands that we do the same.

That we see who God sees. That we see as God sees.

That we too learn how to embrace the other.  Proclaiming the Good News they long to hear.

    I see you.  I love you.

My friends, I do see you. I do love you.

So let us go forth and be God’s eyes and hands and heart this day and every day.

May God be Praised.

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