Have you ever noticed that some people are absolutely clueless about some very important things?
One man I know said his wife doesn’t complain often, but once they were having an old-fashioned “heart-to-heart” talk. She said, “Darling, you never listen to me. Every time I try to talk to you, you get this far-away look in your eyes after only a few seconds. Please promise me you’ll try to show me that you at least listen to what I’m saying.”
He says the last thing he remembers was replying, “I’m sorry, what was that you were saying?”
Of course, many wives would allege that their husbands are clueless. Things happen around the home that we are totally unaware of! Lord, things happen around us in our lives that we are totally unaware of, and it’s not just men that are guilty!
There is, it seems, a little structure deep in our brain stem called the reticular activating system. The reticular activating system is our brain’s filter; it allows us to filter through all the sensory stimuli we receive and focus only on what is important to us. The reticular activating system allows us to filter out the hum of the washing machine, the itchy sweater we’re wearing, the flickering light overhead, so that we are just unaware of it.
Now there are three types of information that are so important that they automatically get through our built-in filter. The three types that get through are things that are unique, things that we value, and things that we find threatening.
For instance, let’s say you are in an important meeting. You are focusing all your concentration on what’s being said. Suddenly, the urn in the kitchen blows up. You would almost certainly notice that because this would be both unique and threatening to you.
Or let’s say that you are working at the computer at home when you hear a little squeal come from your baby’s room. You noticed that small sound because you are automatically attuned to your baby. The baby is valuable to you. Therefore, you notice anything connected to it. All of this is due to the reticular activating system.
It’s interesting, though. In Jesus’ parable we know Lazarus’ name. We don’t know the rich man’s name. Guess who counts in God’s reticular activating system?
It is a powerful parable. If we took it literally, it would even be a scary parable. It’s a story of a rich man who was totally unaware of what was going on at his gate. He’d blanked it out.. this man at his gate. It became so much just a part of his life that he eventually failed to notice it!
And it maybe begs the question: Are there people in your world that you don’t even see? Needy people, hurting people, people who need you attention.
Actually, they’re everywhere, aren’t they? Maybe within our own family. Or next door, or on the bus or train. They may not be covered with sores. There may be no dogs licking their sores, but you can see the hurt in their eyes.
Have you ever been around a child who is starved for attention? They’re on every playground. Some of them can be a nuisance. If they do not get the attention they crave, some of them can end up being a life-long problem for society. Who in their own family doesn’t even see them? Of course, children are not the only ones who are starved for attention spouses, ageing family members, the housebound, people with disabilities.
Our reticular activating system filters them out. They are not on our radar. They can’t serve our needs, so we don’t even see them. It happens all the time. We’re in a hurry. We’ve got places to go, people to meet, and things that need to get done.
Most of us have a wee machine inside ourselves that sets off a buzzer when an evil thought crosses our mind. It’s called a conscience. What we really need is a machine that will tell us when there are people around us who need us, people we are overlooking right outside the gates of our consciousness.
Love sees. That’s the first thing we need to understand from this parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Love sees. The rich man passed this poor beggar day after day and never really saw him until it was too late. You and I need to train our eyes to see those around us. Being sensitive to others is not something that comes naturally to most of us. It’s something at which we need to work. Love sees.
And love acts. Not only did the rich man not even see Lazarus at his gates, there is no evidence that he ever did anything to help Lazarus’ situation. All he did was turn a blind eye.
Love sees. Love acts.
And love heals. How often at a funeral have we seen people torn apart with guilt. They feel guilty not because they ever said anything dreadful about the deceased. Certainly they had never abused their loved one except through neglect. “I should have been there. I should have done this. I should have done that, I just didn’t realize . . .”
It’s great, though, at such times, to know that we did what we should have. We saw. We cared. We showed our love. There is healing in that.
We have no indication that the rich man was a bad man. He was just clueless. He didn’t see. He didn’t act. He probably spent eternity mumbling, “Why on earth did I fail to notice what was right under my nose all the time?”
Let’s try our best not to fall into the same trap!