Thursday 12 March 2009 Holy Communion at Cheddington
Reading Jeremiah 17
5 This is what the LORD says:
"Cursed are those who trust in mortals,
who depend on flesh for their strength
and whose hearts turn away from the LORD.
6 They will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
7 "But blessed are those who trust in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit."
9 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
10 "I the LORD search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward everyone according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve."
Gospel Luke 16
The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
30 " 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "
Trusting in yourself, or trusting in the Lord? The consequences of both these choices are explored in today’s readings.
The prophet Jeremiah likens a person who trusts in himself to a bush growing in a waste land. It can rely on no depth of soil. There is no water to keep it going when the sun beats down and the earth is parched. The person who trusts in God is like a tree growing by a stream. Its roots are in the water, and it can withstand the heat. Its leaves are always green and it bears good fruit.
God seems to favour the rich man in the gospel story. He lives in luxury and dresses in fine clothes. The local people have compassion for Lazarus, and take him every day to the rich man’s gate, so that the rich man may have the blessing of bestowing his help on the one who needs it. The dogs lick his sores, providing some comfort to him and the disinfecting properties of the dogs’ saliva. But the rich man ignores his plight. The rich man relies only on himself.
Both men died. The rich man wanted to alert his brothers to the consequences of relying on their own prosperity and neglecting their duty to help the poor. The rest of the story is about repentance. It’s another Wisdom story about how we should live our lives, hijacked by Jesus and made into a parable for us to contemplate.
In this day and age, and in the midst of these unprecedented economic times, there is an additional corporate lesson to be learned – not only by those who through greed and neglect brought us to the present crisis, but also by those who seek to rely on ill gotten gains whilst others lose their livelihoods and suffer as a result.