A Certain Beggar

“But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores” (Luke 16:20-21).
Khulna Bible College is situated about eight kilometers away from the city of Khulna, Bangladesh, on the other side of the Rupsha river. Although a bridge is now near completion which will give us access to the city, until it is opened the only way across the river is by ferry. This ferry is used by thousands each day, and it is therefore a favored location for beggars. Every crossing is accompanied by the cries of the beggars walking or crawling through the crowd, and their persistent pecking on the windows of cars, trucks and vans.
Ashim is a blind man who has ridden the ferry most days since at least the early 1990’s (when I began visiting Bangladesh). His only income is what he receives from begging there. He is one of many that I see in my trips to Asia, but Ashim is different somehow. It is not that he is blind — there are many blind people in the countries to which I travel. It is not that he is poorer or more needy than others. All are in desperate condition. It is not that his affliction is worse than the rest. Many are far more mangled and incapable than he. Ashim is different perhaps only to me, and his difference is simply this — I know his name. There are several others whom I see regularly, but have never spoken with or been introduced to. I recognize their faces, and especially their afflictions, but I don’t identify with them as much as with Ashim. I look for him when I board the ferry. I am more likely to give to him than to any other particular beggar. I ask about him if I don’t see him for a few trips. We have become in a casual, rather slight way, friends.
Of all the beggars in the Bible, which is your favorite? There are a number of widows, cripples, blind persons, lepers and others afflicted to whom we are introduced. If someone mentions “beggar” in the context of the Bible, of which one will you first think? I would guess that with most of us it would be Lazarus. We know his name. He has become specific to us. In some small way, we have begun to care about him, particularly. Of all the narratives that Jesus left us, it is his story that we want to believe is historical (real), rather than a parable. We want to know that Lazarus lived and that he still lives, in Abraham’s bosom.
It is when people and projects become specific and concrete to us that we really get involved with them. Unnamed thousands may die in flood or famine and it causes shock and regret, but only momentarily and on the surface. But when it affects someone whose name we know, it cuts more deeply. It is that “certain” beggar that will cause us to reach in our pockets, take out more than loose change, and get really involved.
The unique mission of Christianity is to identify every soul on earth as a “certain” person. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all” (Galatians 6:10). We are commanded to love our neighbors, then are told that our neighbors are all whom we have opportunity to assist (Luke 10:25-37). As followers of Jesus we must learn to see others as he did, which is to say as individuals worthy of our love and attention.

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