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 wilderness,
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.
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
“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.’”
On the surface, today’s gospel seems to carry only a message about worldly possessions: rich = bad, poor = good/virtuous. The rich man goes to hell and the poor man is comforted in heaven. In an infantile display of envy of the rich man’s possessions or compassion for the poor man’s suffering, we might call this justice. But this is not what the gospel is about.
The Lord speaks through Jeremiah, saying that he alone tests the mind and searches the heart. God alone knows where we stand with him. It was the state of these men’s hearts that lead to their different ends. The only place where their material possessions factor in is in giving Lazarus a distinct advantage. Sometimes it can be easier to learn of our dependence on God when we don’t feel like the wealth of the world will take care of us. As the psalm says, when we trust in the Lord, our souls find the stream of water that refreshes us. God becomes our source of hope, of fulfillment, our peace in the middle of intense trouble. The rich man is cursed, not because he simply had riches, but because he trusted in them. Why did he never give anything to Lazarus at his gate? He was afraid of losing something. Whether he feared he would lose some of his riches by sharing them with the less fortunate, or whether he was afraid of losing some sort of social standing by speaking to the poor man covered in sores outside his house, he clearly believed that riches were his hope, his salvation. These types who hope in the material world blind themselves to saving grace. They are the opposite of the tree planted by water, that is unmoved spiritually by bad circumstance. Those who trust in materials make themselves like desert shrubs, according to Jeremiah, and they don’t even recognize what they need most in their inmost hearts even if it were to stand right in front of them (or in this case, to sit right at their gate).
Prayer: O Lord, you are my hope. Help me to always trust in you. Help me to stay rooted in your Word, like the trees refreshed by the stream, that you may be my source of life and encouragement. Help me to see what I am still holding on to in this life that keeps me from depending entirely on you. Grant me the grace to surrender ever more fully to your plan, to your promise, to your salvation. Amen.