20Mar 20th March. Thursday in the Second Week of Lent

20th March. Thursday in the Second Week of Lent

1) Jeremiah 17:5-10

(Blessed are those who trust in God rather than in human power.)

Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

(Contrasting fortunes of “Dives” and his poor neighbour, Lazarus.)

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house — for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

In God We Trust

The curse and the blessing spoken by Jeremiah contrast the barrenness faced by one whose heart turns away from God and the blessings promised to one who trusts in the Lord. “They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.” In Jesus’ parable the contrast is set between the selfishly extravagant feasting in the rich man’s villa and the absolute destitution just outside the gates. When the rich man (Dives is Latin for wealthy) enjoyed life’s luxuries every day, poor Lazarus could hardly keep himself alive with the crumbs that were thrown to him. But the positions will be reversed in the next life, says Jesus, when the rich man suffers in Hades for his callous indifference, while Lazarus is held in the bosom of Abraham.

How well this portrait of “Dives” enshrines the warning of Jeremiah “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.” Those who want to follow Jesus cannot afford to get too entangled with the rich and the priveleged, who cherish and fiercely guard their status-quo of huge inequality. In God’s eyes, Lazarus had more dignity while sitting, begging for crumbs than did the rich man who was so uncaring of what lay outside his gates.

St Luke underlines in various ways how central for Jesus was this seeking of equal rights and dignity for all. Clearly, only inner goodness and integrity will survive into eternity, and only the sinking of one’s tap root into God’s holy will allows us to grow in spirit. We pray not for short term gifts or huge surpluses of income and opportunity, but for long-term justice, and meantime put our trust in the Lord.