Mar 17, 2022: Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

1st Reading – 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.

Jeremiah began his prophetic office 116 years after Isaiah began his, and about 620 years before the birth of Jesus. Jeremiah lived through one of the most troubled periods of the ancient Near East as he witnessed the fall of a great empire (Assyria) and the rising of an even greater one (Babylon). In the midst of this turmoil, the kingdom of Judah, which was then in the hands of deplorable kings, came to its downfall by resisting this overwhelming force.

In today’s first reading, Jeremiah uses words similar to those of Psalm 1 to describe the misfortune that will befall those who trust in themselves, versus the prosperity of those who trust in God.

Thus says the LORD:

A messenger formula that identifies the passage as a prophetic oracle.

Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD.

A contrast statement with both a blessing and a curse.

The Hebrew word translated as “one” is geber, a word with a connotation of “strong man.” From where does a strong man draw his strength?

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.

The strong man who turns away from the Lord and relies on human strength is described with jarring images of barrenness and desolation. It is a permanent state of wretchedness; there is no change of season.

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.

In contrast, the strong man who finds his strength in the Lord is described as being firmly planted near water, the source of life.

Like the bush, the tree must endure the hardship of heat and drought — but because it is near water and has stretched its roots toward that water, it is not threatened. The one who trusts in the Lord is secure and productive.

More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?

The translation in the Revised Standard Version reads: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; 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.

God cannot be deceived; he sees right into a person’s heart and he will judge each on his merits.

Psalm 1: 1-4, 6

R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Today’s responsorial psalm is from Psalm 1, which serves as a preface to the whole Book of Psalms. It contrasts with striking similes the destiny of the good and the wicked.

This psalm views life as activity, as choosing either the good or the bad. Each “way” brings its inevitable consequences. The wise through their good actions will experience rootedness and life, and the wicked, rootlessness and death.

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.

What identifies a just or righteous person is their behavior, which is very different from the behavior of those who have no regard for the Law of God.

The righteous seek and find in the Law of God the standard to orient their lives.

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.

The righteous are happy because they thrive. The leafy tree symbolizes prosperity and well-being.

Not so the wicked, not so; they are like chaff which the wind drives away.

Contrast the well-rooted tree with the chaff scattered by the wind, which symbolizes the sinful life of the wicked.

For the LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes.

In the final analysis, it is the Lord who will judge all.

Gospel – 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.’”

Today’s gospel reading is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Like many stories in Luke’s Gospel, it is a tale of radical reversals.

The story addresses two errors: 1) denial of the immortality of the soul and, therefore, retribution in the next life, and 2) the belief that material prosperity in this life is a reward for moral uprightness, and adversity is punishment.

This story also shows that, immediately after death, the soul is judged by God for all its acts (what we call the “particular judgment”) and is rewarded or punished. It also teaches the innate dignity of every human person, regardless of social, financial, cultural, or religious position. This dignity demands that we help those who are in material or spiritual need.

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen 

The dye used to make purple garments was obtained from the shellfish murex. The process of creating this dye was exceedingly expensive and time-consuming; as such, purple was worn only by royalty and other very wealthy individuals. The dye was so cherished that the veil of the Temple was made with this purple.

and dined sumptuously each day. 

At a time when those in the working class were lucky if they got the cheapest cut of meat once a week, this man “dined sumptuously” every day — an indication that he lived in vast luxury.

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. 

Other translations of the word here for “door” have “gate” or “portico.” The rich man’s home boasted a large entrance, another signal of wealth.

The fact that Lazarus lay begging at the gate of the home means that the rich man would have passed him frequently (if not daily) in blind indifference to his agony. In abject poverty, Lazarus longed to eat the scraps from the rich man’s table.

Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.

Jesus has gone to great lengths to contrast the lives of these two men. Lazarus is destitute.

To the Jews, dogs were unclean and therefore not generally used as domestic animals. The implication is that Lazarus’ condition was so debased that scavenging dogs licked his sores, adding to his sufferings. He was so helpless that he couldn’t chase them away.

Lazarus was not a leper; if that were the case, he would not have been allowed to enter the city.

When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.

The choice position at the messianic banquet is to recline with Abraham.

Lazarus was rewarded in the afterlife — not for poverty, but for his trust in God as his help. (The name Lazarus comes from the Hebrew for “God is my help.”)

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. 

The netherworld is the abode of the dead: sheol (Hebrew) / hades (Greek) / purgatorio (Latin).

He is not in torment for molesting Lazarus in any way: he didn’t. In a sense, he did nothing wrong; but he also did nothing to help the poor. He was condemned not because of his riches, but because of apathy and inattention.

And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.

Note that both men are associated with Abraham and therefore belong to the people of Israel. As fellow Jews, they had covenant responsibilities toward one another, particularly the rich man toward the poor man.

Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’

The fact that he refers to Lazarus by name indicates that he was not ignorant of his existence at his front gate for all that time on earth.

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. 

Abraham explains to the rich man that the positions of the two have now been reversed. When the rich man was alive and in a position to help Lazarus, he disregarded him. Lazarus is now comforted while the rich man is 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.’

Further, there is a great chasm between the two men, and Lazarus cannot come to comfort the rich man.

“When Abraham said to the rich man ‘between us and you a great
chasm has been fixed…’ he showed that after death and resurrection there will be no scope for any kind of penance. The impious will not repent and enter the Kingdom, nor will the just sin and go down into Hell. This is the unbridgable abyss” (Aphraates, Demonstratio, 20; De Sustentatione Egenorum, 12).

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.’ 

Now that the rich man is the one in need, he asks that Lazarus first comfort him and then warn his brothers. Even in death, the man is self-serving! He treats the saintly Lazarus as an errand-boy, even from the netherworld.

His five brothers continue to roam the earth, looking on the world’s misery but not feeling it, and seeing fellow human beings in pain without involvement.

But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’

Abraham reminds the man that his brothers have the same religious tradition he had, a tradition that clearly charges the wealthy to meet the needs of the poor.

He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

The rich man, not having himself listened to Moses and the prophets, does not think this is enough.

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.’”

The parable ends on a very ironic note. Even wondrous events like a voice from the grave won’t automatically save people.

“I ask you and I beseech you and, falling at your feet, I beg you: as long as we enjoy the brief respite of life, let us repent, let us be converted, let us become better, so that we will not have to lament uselessly like that rich man when we die and tears can do us no good. For even if you have a father or a son or a friend or anyone else who might have influence with God, no one will be able to set you free, for your own deeds condemn you” (Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s