Lazarus, the Widow, and Other Heroes

Posted on May 20, 2012

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Cross-posted at Wheat and Tares.

He smiled warmly at me when I walked into the store, his wife having called ahead to brief him on my need. Motioning me to follow him, he checked to see that someone else would take care of the customers at the parts counter and we went out back to his pickup. I was sure I’d bought a receiver for my hitch several years ago when I took the YW camping, but I couldn’t find it in the back of the Suburban or the garage. He thought I had too because I had borrowed his then as well and we both remembered the conversations. He’d bought one for the scout trailer; perhaps that was the one we were both remembering, we decided. 

“How high is the trailer?” he asked as we sized up my hitch.

“High,” I admitted, as we looked at his drop-style receiver. “Maybe we can invert it,” I offered. “And I need a 2″ as well,” I commented as I started back in to the store to purchase one.

I got it,” he said with finality, following me. I just smiled. There was no use arguing, asserting my feminine been-doing-this-myself-forever independence; helping is just the way he is, and he’s that way with everyone.

We went back in the store and got the ball, then back through the back again to get a wrench large enough to adjust the bolt, spent some time at the vice where he tightened it to survive the apocalypse, then he handed it over to me with the pin and clip, checking to make sure the cotter pin was there so that I’d be safe. I smiled again. He’s only a handful of years older than I, but he reminds me of the better times with my Dad.

When he was called as the bishop it scared the bejeebers out of him, and it showed. Oh, how we loved him for it, deeply and loyally. Never one to assert his authority, he always leans to loving people into doing good. At first he was intimidated to attend Sunday School with his new calling, thinking that he might be called on to clarify doctrine when he felt inadequate. He isn’t the collegiate type, or the corporate type, or the construction boss type. He would love to open a bike shop. He already has a steady stream of kids visiting his back yard with their two-wheelers, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen him walking someone’s bike back to its home after a tune-up.

He has a heart the size of Texas, a house considerably smaller, and he’s my hero.

The Widow’s Mites by Liz Lemon Swindle

Once, when Jesus was teaching in the temple, he watched as the people came to cast money into the treasury. In both Luke and Mark, the discussion arises because Jesus wishes to make a point, not from some question or event previous in the text (though the placement is worth another day’s discussion, surrounded by teachings about money, taxes, scribal abuse, and trappings of authority). He makes a point of the widow’s contribution (two mites) and then clarifies that charity is personal: it’s not a matter of how much we do, it’s what that costs us.

If we’re in the business of earning our salvation with our charity (not a recommended endeavor, but just for the sake of observation), Jesus raises an eyebrow to ask some challenging questions about relativity and what truly constitutes heroic behavior. As Hugh Nibley caustically notes about large, visible donation: “Wherever giving or money is the issue, “How much?” is the only question. The widow’s mite? Were the donors still rich after they had given? Was it enough to bring everyone up to an equal level, as the Book of Mormon commands?” While few of us demand that level of charity of ourselves or each other, it’s clearly the ideal.

A bit earlier in Luke, Jesus tells a parable of a rich man and a beggar. Only the beggar has a name: Lazarus (though they gave the rich man the name “Dives” in the middle ages – it really just means “rich man”). The rich man and Lazarus live quite different lives: the rich man “fared sumptuously every day,” clothed in purple and linen, while Lazarus laid at his gate “full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.” Both men die and their states change considerably. While Lazarus, who doesn’t seem to have demonstrated any noteworthy righteousness, lies “in the bosom of Abraham” (a lovely Second Temple reference that I’d love to explore another day), the rich man dwells in hell’s torment, begging in his turn for a drop or two of cool water.

I don’t think we need to make the stretch that suffering in and of itself sanctifies because I don’t think that was Jesus’ intent. Reduced to the bare details he intended, it casts our future state in terms of our mortal willingness to give, to share, and to alleviate suffering, while all other details of mortality are ignored for the moment. Our talents, intelligence, resources, gifts, social class, jobs, family status, callings, successes, and monuments all fall before our charity, or lack thereof. As a friend recently reminded me, “Things make sense when we choose charity” meaning that priorities arise naturally when we choose charity first. Hence, charity is temporally immediate if it is to have efficacy eternally.

Abraham gets a unique shout-out in the parable, probably because he had, by Jesus’ time, taken such a central role in the faith of the Jews. Old Testament and other records paint a picture of a truly heroic man, running to the rescue, keeping his tent flaps rolled up to welcome others, using the expression hineni one-third of the times it’s recorded in Old Testament records. His life has come to represent the willingness to sacrifice all for God, so he is the epitome of the eternally rewarded, whose company we aspire to keep eternally.

Perhaps mortality can be reduced to “To Give or Not to Give, That is the Question.” Perhaps that is the heroism that will matter in the long run. In our personal lives, the few crumbs from someone else’s table that assuage our hunger, the opportunity to see someone give a widow’s mite and to be humbled by it, the warm smile that accompanies a favor gladly given – that may be the heroism that makes this long run matter.

Who are your heroes? What makes them heroic? And why has it mattered to you?

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