Heroes and Villains: A Reflection on the Rich Man with Five Brothers

Most stories have heroes – the good guys, the protagonists who inspire and teach us and with whom we can identify. And… most stories have villains – the bad guys, the ones who create conflict and who oppose the heroes. Typically, we don’t identify with the villains.

The Gospel stories often have heroes and villains too. For example, the priest and the Levite were villains when they passed by the injured man on the road to Jericho while the Samaritan became a hero when he stopped to help. Of the ten lepers who were cured by Jesus, the nine who just went on with their lives were villains while the one who returned to Jesus and acknowledged what had happened was the hero. And in today’s Gospel, the rich man dressed in purple and fine linen was the villain. In this particular gospel, we become the hero ourselves if we can heed the lessons of scripture and recognize a savior who rises from the dead.

But I’d like to suggest that it is also entirely possible to relate to the villains in these Gospel stories. The priest and Levite were trying to avoid grave danger themselves and I can relate to that. The nine lepers were able to immediately go back to the lives and loved ones they believed they had lost forever. I can relate to that. And the purple wearing rich man never stopped to think about Lazarus, the poor man lying at his door, never understanding what was actually at stake. Sadly, I probably can relate to that too.

The issue is this: we can move through life so quickly, so busy, so focused on what is expected of us, with our noses down and just going through the daily grind, that we don’t notice the things in our lives which can teach us… if we would only notice them.

If we would only notice them.

I wonder if there are things I encounter in my life that are trying to teach me something. Do you think there could be something like that in your life?

In order for us to ever really know – because this is one of those “you don’t know what you don’t know” situations – I believe we need to be open to the idea that we can learn and be changed by almost anything or anyone. That’s a good starting point. For example…

… the person in our life who endlessly frustrates us…

… or the one begging for money at the intersection on Route 1…

… or the financial hardship we can’t seem to shake…

… or the ongoing conflict taking place in our family…

… or the bad diagnosis we just got…

… or nearly any cross we have to bear.

We may not want any of those things, but perhaps there is a chance, just a chance, that they are our teachers… and that they can change us for the better. And maybe, like the poor man in front of the rich man’s house, they might even save us?

The rich man in purple asked Abraham to send his five brothers a sign – a big, glaring, blaring, super obvious warning sign that they would be sure not to miss. Abraham told him that the sign was already there… and that it had been right there in front of him all along.

What signs might be right here… right here in front of us… now?

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