16 March, 2017. Thursday, Week 2 of Lent
1st Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-10
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord rather than in mere mortal 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 desert, 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
The contrasting fortunes in the next life, of the uncaring wealthy and poor Lazarus
Jesus told his listners this parable, “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 spite of appearances
In Jeremiah’s lament and the parable of Jesus face up to seeming barrenness and failure. Even one who trusts in the Lord must deal with the heat of the desert and the hardships of the weather. In today’s parable the imagery changes from Jeremiah’s desert to the gateway of a wealthy person’s villa. Inside there is feasting, and outside destitution. When the Rich Man wipes his mouth and hands with a piece of bread, and tosses the bread away, Lazarus is lucky to snatch these crumbs to stay alive. The poor man manages survives in his own waste land!
Jeremiah’s poem developes the contrast further. “One whose heart is turned away from the Lord …is like a barren bush” without fruit, fit only for kindling. The other bush, typified by one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord, is surrounded with the same dry sand, yet continues to bear fruit. The roots sink deeply beneath the surface into the hidden water of God’s holy will. This description fits the prophet himself. His life was in ruin, with even his own family turned against him; the king spoke to him only in secret and left him exposed to his enemies in daylight. The prophet died, rejected and persecuted, in the foreign land of Egypt. Yet, with his heart attuned God’s will, Jeremiah became one of the key figures in Israel’s survival as a people. His influence upon their faith turned out to be deeper than anyone else’s in their history. The book of Jeremiah sustained Jesus in prayer and continues to be a support for Christians as well as Jews. Even when he felt himself useless, Jeremiah was keeping his nation’s faith alive.
In spite of appearances Jeremiah was bearing fruit, and Lazarus kept his integrity even though sitting with dogs and begging for crumbs at Dives’ door! Destitution can destroy one’s confidence and self-respect, but in principle it can and does coexist with inner peace and strength. The beggar can be nearer to God than the banker, the cardinal, the CEO or the government minister. The true measure of a person’s worth is the spiritual goodness of the heart.
Tales to make us think
The parables are intended to make us think and reflect. In the one we have just heard, two people lived side by side, a rich man in his great house and a poor man at the gate of the house. Yet, there was a chasm between them; whereas the poor man looked towards the rich man for scraps, the rich man did not look towards the poor man but ignored him. The parable seems to be challenging us not to allow a chasm to develop between us and those who, although physically close to us, live in a very different world to the one we inhabit. The rich man in the parable lived in his own world and made no effort to enter the world of the beggar at his gate. We can all insulate ourselves in our own world. The parable challenges us to enter the world of the other and to allow the other to enter our world. That, in a sense, is what Jesus did; he entered our world and invited us to enter his world. We can do the same for each other. When we cross the threshold into the world of the other, into the world of those who are very different from us in all kinds of ways, we may discover that we not only have something to give the other but a great deal to receive as well.