Thursday, March 4, 2010

Blessed Are They Who Hope In The Lord.

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
Reading I
Jeremiah 17:5-10
Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
But stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
It fears not the heat when it comes,
its leaves stay green;
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.
More tortuous than all else is the human heart,
beyond remedy; who can understand it?
I, the LORD, alone probe the mind
and test the heart,
To reward everyone according to his ways,
according to the merit of his deeds.
Today’s Mass is about priorities and about our responsibilities to those around us. It deals with Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and the story of Lazarus and the poor man.

Jeremiah makes a strong contrast between two kinds of people:
- the one who thinks he is self-sufficient, is immersed in the material world
and ignores the place of God in his life. He feels he “has it made”.
- the one who puts all his trust in God and in the way of life that God suggests.

The first man’s life is basically arid and empty. “He is like dry scrub in the wastelands.” He has no eye for what is really good. Surrounded by his luxuries and pleasures he unwittingly lives in a desert. He measures his life by what he has, not by what he is - for himself, still less for others.

The second man “is like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream; when the heat comes it feels no alarm, its foliage stays green; it has no worries in a year of drought, and never ceases to bear fruit.” Such a person may lead a life of great material simplicity but is in touch with a deeper source of wealth, God’s truth, wisdom and love.

Finally, there is the warning of man’s gift for self-deception. Verse 11, not quoted for some reason in today’s reading, is very appropriate: “A partridge that mothers a brood not her own is the man who acquires wealth unjustly. In midlife it will desert him; in the end he is only a fool.” You can’t take it with you and, while you have it, you need to share it with those who are genuinely deprived. This is the message of today’s Gospel.

It is very easy to be persuaded that happiness lies in having things, having status, having power.
But God is not interested in the external impressions; he only judges what goes on in the depths of the heart.
Where do I stand in all this? Where do I put my trust? In what are my values?
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Psalm 1
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Not so, the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
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Luke 16:19-31
Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed
in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man
named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger
in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
Abraham replied, ‘My child,
remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here,
whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you
a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing
who might wish to go from our side to yours
or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him
to my father’s house,
for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied,
‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead
goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said,
‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded
if someone should rise from the dead.’“
Here we have illustrated in parable form two of Luke’s beatitudes: “Happy are you who are poor, you who are hungry now!” and “Woe to you who are rich, who are filled now!” The links with the First Reading are also obvious.

On the one hand, you have a rich man dressed in purple and fine linen, both signs of great wealth. He also has a good table and enjoys the choicest of foods every day. (He is sometimes called ‘Dives’, which is simply the Latin word for ‘rich’.)

At the same time you have a poor man called Lazarus. (The rich man is nameless. In spite of all his money, he is a Nobody.) He was hungry and longed, like the dogs, to pick up the scraps that might fall from the dining table. The dogs even licked his sores. Dogs were abhorrent to Jews so this was a particularly degrading thing to happen.

What is striking about this scene is that nothing seems to be happening. The rich man is eating; the poor man is sitting and waiting. There are no words between them. The poor man is not abused or chased away; he is simply ignored as if he did not exist. “As often as you neglected to do it to the least of these brothers of mine, you neglected to do it to me.”

Then both men die. Lazarus is brought by angels to the bosom of Abraham; the rich man is condemned to an existence of great suffering in Hades, the place of the dead. The rich man now begs for even the slightest relief from the man he ignored in his lifetime. But it is now too late.

The rich man had his chance and he blew it. He had his life of “good things”; he now knows just how “good” they really were. It is now Lazarus’ turn to have the really good things, the companionship of his God.

The rich man begs on behalf of his brothers that they be warned. “They have Moses and the prophets [the whole Jewish religious tradition],” replies Abraham. “But if only someone would come to them from the dead, they would change their ways.” “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Surely a reference to Jesus himself and to the many Jews who refused to believe in him even after his resurrection. There are people today who want some special signs from God in order to believe. We have the Good News of the New Testament and the living, experienced presence of Jesus among us; we do not need any more. We have all the guidance we need to lead the kind of life which will ensure we spend our future existence in the company of Lazarus.

And that life is measured not by wealth, status, or power but in a life of caring and sharing relationships. In a world of extreme consumerism, hedonism and individualism, today’s readings have a very important message. Those are truly rich who enrich the lives of others.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'A great chasm is established'

The chasm between the rich man and Lazarus was already there in their lifetime. After all, what is wealth for, but to insulate us from life's harsh realities: illness, decline and death? The wealthier we become, the more out-of-touch we are ('my people will talk to your people'). It becomes harder and harder to cross the chasm, until finally it is impossible.

The way the rich man wants to lick Lazarus' finger shows that he has actually sunk even lower than Lazarus ever was in all his humiliation - the rich man is now at the level of the dogs who licked Lazarus' sores.