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.
Blessed are they who who follow not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walk in the way of sinners,
nor sit in the company of the insolent,
But delight in the law of the Lord
and meditate on his law day and night. (R./)
They are is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever they do will prosper. (R./)
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. (R./)
Jesus told them 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.'"
Jeremiah’s lament and the parable of the Rich Man and the Poor Man illustrate the weakness of human nature. Even the prophet who trusted in God was tested by the heat of the desert and the hardships of life. The Lazarus parable is located not in the desert but in the gateway of a wealthy man’s villa. Inside there is feasting, and outside destitution. As the Rich Man wipes his hands with a piece of bread, then tosses it away, poor Lazarus would love even those few crumbs, just to stay alive. The poor man was barely surviving while the lavish party went on inside. It is an image painfully apt for our own times.
Jeremiah’s poem developes the contrast between the ungodly and the righteous. The person whose heart is turned away from the Lord… “is like a barren bush.” It bears no fruit and is fit only for kindling. The other plant, signifying the person who trusts in the Lord, stands on the same dry ground, but continues to bear fruit. Its 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 on their faith was immense. 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 helped to keep his nation’s faith alive.
Although rejected, Jeremiah kept his integrity, and Lazarus kept his integrity too, even while begging at the rich man’s door! Destitution usually destroys confidence and self-respect, but poverty can coexist with inner peace and strength. The beggar can be nearer to God than the banker, the cardinal, the CEO or the cabinet minister. People living in comfortable, gated communities may feel a twinge of conscience at hearing today’s parable. The true measure of a life is the generosity of one’s heart.
When someone is said to be “worth” or “valued at” so many millions (of Euros or Dollars), this assessment clashes with Gospel values. A person’s worth cannot be measured in money like that. The parables are meant to make us think about deeper values, about what is really right and wrong.
“Mr Rich” — for he is often called Dives (Latin for “Rich”) — lived in his priveleged, well-guarded world and made no effort to relieve or even understand the plight of the beggar at his gate. All of us can insulate ourselves like that in our own little worlds. We need to look outside more!
Jesus challenges us to learn empathy and let others enter our world. That is what he himself did. He entered our world and invites us to enter his. We can do the same for each other. When we cross the threshold into another person’s world, meeting people who are very different from ourselves, we may discover that we not only have something to give them but a great deal to receive as well.