Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who Do You Trust?

Today’s Scripture Readings are all about hope.

They who put their hope and their trust in the LORD are like a tree planted near the water that extends its roots toward the tree. When the heat comes, its leaves will stay green. Even if there is a drought during the summer, it will still yield fruit.

But those who trust their own flesh, or other people, instead of the LORD, are like the bushes that grow in the desert, that wither in the heat of the sun, or the plants that sprout on the shores of the Dead Sea, that are choked off for lack of fresh water.

The human heart can become desperately ill with deceit, and who can cure it? Only the LORD, who tests the mind and probes the heart. He will reward everyone according to the merit of their deeds.
(Jeremiah 17:5-10)

How blessed is one who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
Nor walk in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the company of scoffers.
But delights in the law of the LORD,
And meditates on his law, both day and night.

He is like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in due season,
And whose leaves never wither.
Whatever he does, prospers.

Not so the wicked,  not so!
They are like chaff that the winds drive away.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked vanishes. (Psalm I)

Once upon a time, there was a rich man, who dressed in fine linen and purple cloth, and dined splendidly every day. Lying at his gate, there was a poor man named Lazarus, who was covered with ulcers. He longed to eat the table scraps left over from the rich man’s meals.

Now, the poor man died, and was carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham. Then the rich man also died, and was buried. In Hades, where he was tormented, he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip his finger tip into water, and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.”

But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you enjoyed the good life, while Lazarus had a miserable existence. Now he is comforted, and you are in agony. Not only that, but a great gulf exists between here and there, and no one can pass from here to you, and no one can cross from there to us.”

“Then, Father Abraham, I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not end up in this place of torment.”

“They have Moses and the Prophets; they can listen to them.”

“But, Father Abraham, if someone goes to them from the dead, then they will repent!”

“If they pay no attention to Moses and the Prophets, they won’t be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead!” (Luke 16:19-31)

Once upon a time, when I was in my teens, there was a very popular quiz show on the television, emceed by a young fellow from Omaha who was doing his first “gig” on the national networks. The young man’s name was Johnny Carson; the name of the quiz show is the theme of today’s readings: “Who do you trust?” The prophet Jeremiah, speaking the word of the LORD, characterizes two types of person: those who trust in the LORD, and those who place their trust in other people, or in their possessions, or in their flesh. (Think seven capital sins: Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride.) Wait, there’s one missing! Oh yes, Lust!

The conclusion of today’s First Reading tells us that the LORD will reward each of us according to the merit of our deeds. God invites us to put our trust in Him, so that, when the day comes to settle our accounts, our assets outweigh our debits, in the currency of grace. The way to achieve that goal is to do what God did in Jesus. As the poem often, if wrongly, attributed to Francis of Assisi reminds us: “It is in giving of ourselves that we receive, and it is dying to ourselves, that we are born to eternal life.”

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