This Sunday, I was struck by the reading during Lauds:
I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:25-28)
I kept thinking about stony hearts and what that means. God is speaking to His people here about working within them to create their souls anew. He wants to give them renewed hearts and souls that are bent towards His will.
But I realized that it means more than that. Stony hearts aren’t natural, and our hearts weren’t made to be hardened. They were made for giving and receiving love. And God is Love — He speaks of people living by His statutes, careful to observe His decrees. And the greatest of these decrees is the Great Commandment.
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your strength, with all your mind, and with all your soul. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
To have a natural heart means to have a heart like God originally created us to have: one for love. After the Fall, we lost that ability to love well, but God promises His people in the Old Testament that He will come and renew us. He will make our hearts new. He will help us learn to love.
Jesus came to do exactly that: show us how to love. His Cross is the ultimate example of what love means for us: sacrifice and, sometimes, pain. But real love has rewards that surpass that pain and sacrifice.
And in the Gospel on Sunday, Jesus makes it clear that we are called to love everyone. He tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus begged outside the rich man’s door, but he was essentially invisible to the wealthy man. We had a visiting priest this Sunday, and in his homily, he talked about how the rich man didn’t even know Lazarus existed. He didn’t really even know his name. And when confronted with the sight of Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham, the rich man still didn’t address him directly, and asked Abraham to make Lazarus serve him:
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
‘My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father,
send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers,
so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.’
Father encouraged us to examine our lives and see where Lazarus is at our door. It might be literal poor people: the man begging outside of Walmart or the people who shop at the community clothes closet, where donations are given out for free. It might be the lonely young man who seems alone and in need of friendship. It might be the widow who needs someone to look in on her to be sure she’s got enough groceries and her medications are all refilled and taken daily.
We need natural hearts to start to see Lazarus at the door. We need to let God remake our hearts so that we reach out to those in need, and we need to stop trying to decide if they’re worthy of our help or what that beggar will do with the money we hand him. Dorothy Day once said, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” That’s our call to recognize Lazarus at the door, no matter how uncomfortable his presence makes us.
Who is the Lazarus at your door? Will you let God remake your stony heart into a natural one?
I was reminded by that Dorothy Day quote by Heather Schieder, who has a great piece on her site with that Dorothy Day quote. Go check out her artwork!
©2019 Christine Johnson