When you look at the life of St. Francis, there is hardly anything remarkable to behold. In almost every way, he was an ordinary man. Compared to other saints, I cannot think of a single superlative that we could add to his name that wouldn’t fit better with a handful of others.

At yet, his life has captured the hearts of millions. The effect that he (and his order) have had on the world is incalculable. People revere him as the greatest of saints, and I have to wonder: why?

On the eve of his feast day, I offer my own take on why I believe him to be the greatest of saints.

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This week’s podcast! A day late! Nothing more to say, enjoy it!

What does it mean to think like a Franciscan? When people imagine our spirituality, I imagine many picture a tree-hugging hippie communing with nature, a jovial cartoon character with a big belly, or a humble beggar with tattered clothes. And there’s certainly some truth to all of these images! (Stereotypes exist for a reason…)

Unfortunately, what often gets lost in these caricatures is the fact that Franciscans were masters of theology in the Middle Ages. While many will think of St. Thomas Aquinas as the foremost theologian of Church history, the fact of the matter is that his popularity grew long after his death (after, of course, he his writings were suppressed and then reinstated…) As strange as it might sound today, it was actually the Franciscans that held the greatest and widest influence in scholastic thought for many centuries.

I guess some really do peak early.

With the rise of Thomism in the late Middle Ages, and the subsequent crowning of Thomas as the primary theologian of the Church after Trent and Vatican I, Franciscan thought took a backseat and was often forgotten by serious theologians. This was a great tragedy, and today some are beginning to rediscover the treasure that is the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition.

The problem, as so many understand, is that our Tradition is not a school with uniform principles of study. There is no such thing as a “Franciscan” way of studying or thinking. Unlike the Dominicans or Jesuits that have very clearly defined modes of theology, the Franciscans tend to be very experiential and personal, meaning that naming it is about as allusive as catching an electron: we know it’s there, and it’s certainly important, but there is just no way of fitting it neatly into a box.

Instead, as I have tried to capture in this video, there are broad categories of inquiry that Franciscans tend to focus on, and contributions made by specific Franciscans. None of them are universally held by every Franciscan, but they offer a starting point that may help us understand a different way of thinking in our Church.

The following is my homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

I have a friend who is gay. This friend knew that he was gay since he was a kid, but didn’t tell anyone until he was an adult. You see, he had an older brother who was a bit of a bully. Growing up, he saw his brother pick on people, physically and emotionally hurt them; he heard his brother use anti-gay slurs, talk about gay people with anger… and so he was afraid of his brother. He loved his brother, but didn’t know if his brother would love him if he knew. 

At the age of 18, he decided that he could no longer live in fear. He was an adult, moving out of the house—he had to tell his family. On his 18th birthday, he came out to his brother, and the most amazing thing happened. He said that his brother did not react much, there was no anger or tears, no congratulations or laughter, but from that moment on, he never heard his brother say a bad word about gay people again. Something changed in his brother. It was as if his whole perspective on the issue was different now. He loved his brother, his brother was gay, so how could he hate people just because they were gay? The issue had become personal for him.

There are times in all of our lives when our eyes are opened, when we realize all at once that we could not see what was right in front of us—that we had hurt others, that we’d been inconsiderate, that we were wrong. Once you see, once you know, you just can’t go back living the way you did before. Something has to change.

These moments might be big, as in the case of my friend, but they might also be very routine. Like many of us when we’re kids, I used to leave many messes around the house. Spill something, knock something over, leave food out. No big deal, right? It always got cleaned up. That was until my mom got frustrated with me one day and said, “You know, when you leave a mess, it doesn’t just magically clean itself. I clean it. And so when you leave a mess, what you’re saying is, ‘I don’t care, I’ll make mom clean it.’” I know it sounds super obvious, but my 6 or 8 year old brain had just never put those pieces together. My eyes were opened, the issue became personal. I saw, right there in front of me, how I was hurting someone, being disrespectful, and I had to change. And from that moment on, I’ve never left a single mess for anyone else to clean…

Okay… well, nobody’s perfect! But the point remains: Once you see, once you know, you just can’t go back living the way you did before. Something has to change.

But we don’t like change, do we? We don’t want to be shown that we were wrong, that we’ve hurt people, that we haven’t lived up to who we say we are. And so what we do, sometimes, is remain willfully ignorant. We choose not to look. We pretend like our problem doesn’t exist. We keep it distant, out there, as far away from personal as we can.

We act as the rich man does towards Lazarus.

Remember where Jesus tells us that Lazarus was. He was not in the marketplace on the rich man’s way to work. He wasn’t on the side of the road, easily ignored. No, Jesus tells us that Lazarus was lying at the rich man’s door. Lying at his door. In order for the rich man to even leave his house, he would have had to step over Lazarus. There’s no doubt that Lazarus probably smelled, the passage says that he attracted dogs—the rich man would have been well aware of Lazarus, how desperate he was, how hungry he was, that he would have gladly eaten the scraps from the table.

And yet, the rich man does nothing. He chooses not to see.

And that’s just the start of his problems. Reunited in the afterlife, everything is made even more obvious for the rich man. He is in a place of torment while Lazarus is carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham. Nothing could be clearer as to who was favored, who was important to God. Surely the rich man is contrite! Surely he knows now that he should have respected Lazarus, cared for him! Right? Unfortunately, no. Despite the truth being right in front of his eyes, he refuses to see. He pleads with Abraham to have pity on him, to warn his brothers. But remember how he asked: “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water,” “Send Lazarus to my father’s house.” Even in the afterlife, even with the truth right in from of his eyes, he still treats Lazarus as less than him. He never apologizes to Lazarus, never even speaks to him directly. He speaks about him, and treats him like a servant that is supposed to do things for him.

The rich man did not see because he did not want to see. He remained willfully ignorant to the damage he had done, to the problems around him, because acknowledging that they exist meant admitting that he was wrong, admitting that he had to change. And nobody likes change, right?

It doesn’t take much to see that there are many Lazarus’ in our world, many people lying at our own doors crying out for their lives, desperately hoping that someone will see them. On a global scale, the United Nations reports that there are more than 70 million people living as refugees in our world, forcibly removed from their homes by violence and extreme poverty. They live without a home, separated from their families, just fighting to survive.

On a local level, Clarke County, where many of us live, has the third highest percentage of poverty in all of Georgia. Just beyond campus there are people who are hungry, who are homeless, who live in situations we would never accept for our own families.

On a community level, 25 percent of students here on campus—one out of every four—deal with food insecurity while in college. In the past two weeks alone, the Center has been approached by three different organizations asking us to help combat this problem.

The fact of the matter is that Lazarus is not just some story, but a living reality for so many people in our world. All around us—in our world, in our city, in our community, maybe even in our families—Lazarus is in desperate need. I guarantee that each and every one of us in this congregation encounters someone on a regular basis who is struggling. Maybe it’s a big issue like hunger or depression or a financial crisis, but maybe it’s a less obvious problem: a friend who has a little too much to drink, a neighbor who is lonely, a coworker who’s having a rough day. Lazarus is all around us, sometimes right in front of us. There are problems in our lives that are so close to us that we have to literally walk over them to get out of our houses.

When they are distant, when they are someone else, when they’re just a story on the news… they can be very easy to ignore. The news is so depressing, right? So we can just turn it off. We can look away. We can tell ourselves that it’s not our problem, that there’s nothing we can do. It’s easy to ignore Lazarus when we fail to see him. It’s easy to make anti-gay slurs when we don’t know anyone who’s gay; easy to leave messes around the house when we don’t realize someone else has to clean them up.

As Christians, we simply cannot do this.

Jesus calls us to see the Lazarus’ of our world, to care for them, to treat them with dignity, because the poor are blessed. He tells us in the Beatitudes just as he shows us in this Gospel today that they are particularly blessed. If we want to follow Jesus, we must love the ones he loved, and he clearly loved the poor.

Even more than that, though, is the fact that Jesus identifies with people like Lazarus. In the Gospel of Matthew he says that when we feed the least among us, give them clothing and visit them in prison, we don’t just do it to people he loves, we actually do it to him. He so identifies with people like Lazarus that he can be found clearly in them.

And so I wonder: do you see the person lying outside of your own door? Do you recognize Jesus in them and want to serve them with your whole heart? Or do you prefer to keep walking, to step over, to remain distant and say that it’s not our problem?

May God give you the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to love every Lazarus in your life… for it is not just Lazarus that is lying at our door, but Christ, living among us, waiting to be served.

Last Saturday… was an experience. I’ll let the vlog do the talking on this one.