Thursday in the Second Week of Lent
Jeremiah 17:5ff. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord rather than in mere mortal power.
Luke 16:19ff. The contrasting fortunes in the next life, of “Dives,” the uncaring rich man and his poor neighbour, Lazarus.
In God We Trust
In the curse of Jeremiah and the parable of Jesus we meet a lifetime of seeming barrenness, of apparent salty waste, of unrelieved poverty. Even “the person who trusts in the Lord” faces the fierce heat of the desert wilderness and “the year of drought.” On the surface of it life is surrounded by the same burnt out dryness for the good person and for the other “one who trusts [only] in human beings . . . whose heart turns away from the Lord.”
In Jesus’ parable the imagery changes from the desert wilderness in Jeremiah’s statement to the gate of a wealthy person’s villa. Inside is daily feasting, outside destitution. After Dives would wipe his mouth and hands with a piece of bread, he would toss the bread away. Lazarus considered himself lucky to snatch these crumbs to stay alive. Lazarus managed barely to survive in his own kind of salty waste!
Jeremiah’s poem compares the two persons still further. “The one who trusts [only] in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart is turned away from the Lord … is like a barren bush” without fruit, fit only for kindling wood. The other bush, typified by “the person 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 Jeremiah himself. His life seemed to be in shambles, even his own family turned against him (Jer 11:19-23; 12:6); the king Zedekiah befriended him only in secret and left him to his enemies in daylight (Jer 37). The prophet died, persecuted, in the foreign land of Egypt (Jer 43). Yet, with his roots searching deeply for God’s will, Jeremiah became one of the most crucial figures in the history of Israel’s religion. His influence upon the popular devotion of the people turned out to be as profound as anyone else’s in Israel’s long history. The book of Jeremiah sustained Jesus in prayer and continues to be our source of strength. While Jeremiah considered himself useless (15:10-21), he was supporting a nation.
Jeremiah was bearing fruit, and Lazarus too must have evinced an exceptional dignity and wholesome-ness even though sitting with dogs and begging for crumbs at Dives’ parlor door! Destitution in some cases can destroy the last shreds of self-respect, but in other cases it can and does force the inner peace and strength of a person to appear translucent across the face and in the entire bearing of the beggar. There are no jewels and other cosmetics to hide or distract from the spiritual goodness at the heart.
Only this interior goodness survives into eternity, as only this sinking of one’s tap root in God’s holy will allows a person to absorb inner nourishment. External changes of temperature, rain or sunshine, floods or droughts, do not destroy such life, for it does not depend upon the surface events. Even if there were visions and revelations, even if the holiest of people like Lazarus returned from Paradise to planet earth, still such extraordinary episodes will not bring the recipient across the desert stretch of dryness nor induce him to give up his sham of luxury and his callousness to injustice.
We pray, therefore, not for short term gifts, nor for feelings and manifestations of holiness. True, we can ask God’s help in such matters, but basically we pray that the hopes and the beat of our heart, the sight of our eyes, the strength of our bearing manifest that “blessed . . . person who trusts [always] in the Lord.”
First Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-10
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
“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.’ e 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.’”