Thursday of the 2nd Week of Lent
(Jer 17:5-10; Lk 16: 19-31)
A story was told: In 1990 former Partridge Family star Danny Bonaduce met his wife Gretchen, on a blind date. He married her that same day. According to the actor, when he woke up beside his new bride the next morning, he had to ask her for her name. In spite of this inauspicious start, they’re still together and have two children. (taken from 1,000 unforgettable Senior Moments, p. 17) In the world there always exists a duality. One may have a good memory while another may have “senior moments.” In the world, there are opposites: good or bad, rich or poor, old or young, etc. Both readings today speak about opposites to help us realize that life is a choice. We are encouraged to choose what is right and worthy of God. Every choice supposes an evaluation and discernment. Let us look into the Gospel today which speaks about the rich man and Lazarus. Is there any other difference in them besides being poor and being rich?
1. Name- the mention of the name here in the stories of Jesus is very significant because Jesus never reveal any name in his parables except in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man is nameless which indicates: a) God does not know him, b) he does not belong to the sheepfold (“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” Jn 10:27) c) has a special place in one’s heart and has a mission (But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.) In his lifetime, the rich enjoys his temporal happiness but he will be unknown to God on the day he passes away. Names divide many people in many ways. Attached to names are status in the society, academic attainments, positions of honor and designation. Names represent actualities and they sometimes breed inequality. The rich usually have names in the society while in the Gospel, the poor man’s only claim was that he is named by Jesus in the story.
2. Clothing- we were told that the rich man whom Lazarus was begging dressed in purple clothing which is symbolic of a royal status. Wool was used to produce vestments that advertised the social status of those who wore them. Lazarus was only covered with sores which was a condition that undoubtedly marked him as unclean. This suggests that Lazarus would even have been regarded as suffering from divine punishment. He might be covered with sores but clothe by God with love; filled with dirt or was called unclean but clean and pure in heart which God sees. Lazarus’ heart which was not mentioned in the Gospel for it was hidden and it was which God sees. Woe to the man then who relies on external things. The first reading reminds us “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD.”
3. Food- Food does not only unite people in banquets, celebrations and gatherings, they may also divide. In the Old Testament, Jews do not eat what the pagans partake. It was a way to segregate themselves and food was used to make the difference from those who believe in the One God and those who are polytheistic. Even today, food not only speaks of the authenticity and uniqueness of a culture but they are used to divide people linking them to religion. Yet, Jesus uses food in the Holy Eucharist to unite the people divided by food. To dine sumptuously was a symbol of a happy life. Legends concerning King Agrippa II have feasts on a daily basis and we were told that he hosted a meal of banquet proportions. In the story of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32) a feast is used to signal a special occasion, with a calf killed in order to feed as many as a hundred guests. With food, the poor man Lazarus finds himself left alone, divided, and thrown into despair. Whatever he had he has still his sores to give to the dogs who were also hungry themselves. When a rich man is greedy and self-centered, even creation suffers like the dogs who lick on the sores of Lazarus. This indicated that even dogs suffer from the rich man’s greed.
4. Door- the doors of rich men were wide and high. Though wide enough is the door, Lazarus still finds himself struggling to enter it. The wealthy man has a gate that signifies his possession of an estate or house compound appropriate to his station. Lazarus has no home in this world, but later has the biggest and meaningful home in heaven. Lazarus had no home and was forcibly thrown down to the wealthy man’s gate. Gazing at this difference, one is able to reflect that a meaningful life is not to be celebrated in this world. To enjoy temporal goods of the earth will not guarantee us to eternal bliss. Jesus’ comparison between the rich and Lazarus continued even in death. It is not by chance that Jesus observes that the rich man received burial but provides no such detail in the ease of Lazarus. Lazarus was honored even in death, while the rich man receives the final disgrace. The doors of heaven may finally divide us in the end. If doors divide us in this world, then a door will be opened and be closed afterwards which will finally mark the difference. If we choose blessing, then God will bless us. Isaiah says that if a person stands up and lives for God, “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.”
Thursday of the 3rd Week of Lent
(Jer 7:23-28; Lk 11: 14-23)
When Helen Keller was 10 years old, her father asked the famous Boston minister, Phillips Brooks, to tell her about God. He gladely did so. After their first conversation, Brooks was profoundly moved by Helen’s response. She said that she had always known there was a God, but had not before known His name. (taken from the Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations, by Robert J. Morgan, p. 352) God is with us always though we might not known Him yet. By the time we come to know Him and about Him, then He expects that we should be with Him. “Being with” is the theme of the readings today. Jeremiah had to remind the people of Israel that acknowledging a God who exists requires a people “being with” for Him. In the same way, Jesus reminded the people and said “whoever is not with me, is against me.” The season of Lent encourages us to “be with” Christ especially remembering His last days and moments on earth hoping that we develop a spirituality that would convince us to “be with” Him all the time.
1. Voice- The voice of God calls forth communion. As the Season of Lent expects us to be “with Jesus” in His last days on earth so that we may receive His blessings, we have good readings to reflect so that we would be led towards accompanying Jesus. We remember Him while in the Garden of Gethsemani where three of his disciples were with Him but they were drowsy and asleep. Jesus had to approach them and said “He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?” The growth and the strength of our faith will largely depend on our “being with” Christ. In the first reading today, the Prophet Jeremiah highlights the value of the voice of God as an imperative for us to be with God. God said “listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people.” Listening to God’s voice is a concrete act of “being with.” Listening to His voice entails giving up listening selfishly our own voices. The responsorial psalm affirms: “if today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
2. Word- “Being with” entails listening and obeying the Word of God. The importance of the word was spoken of twice in the first reading today: a) the word encourages obedience. God disliked obstinate hearts. He said: “when you speak all these words to them, they will not listen to you either; when you call to them, they will not answer you.” Our participation in the Holy Eucharist is a concrete manifestation of “being with” for we do not desert the Lord but manifest our yearning for Him; b) word entails faithfulness. God measures out fidelity of the people by their fidelity to His word. Fidelity is not only listening to God’s word but speaking also of His word. It meant worshipping the Lord, following His commands and applying them on a daily basis. We were told in the first reading today that the Lord complained to Jeremiah about a people who do not anymore speak of His name, His word, His will and His goodness. He said “faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.”
3. Community- The manner we worship and gather together is essential to our inner and concrete response to God’s initiative. His desire is to build a community for Himself. Jeremiah revisited the Sinai covenant “I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper.” The community was an integral aspect of being God’s people. When God desired to rescue the Hebrews from Egypt, Moses was assured by God of His presence because Pharaoh will be obstinate and besides God was about to build a community of His own. The community needed the presence of God so He assured Moses “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12). Our gathering as a community is a form of “being with” God and “being with” for God. The consistent abiding presence of God in the community of the Old Testament is reflected in Jesus’ words: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt 18:20) The reciprocity of presence between God and the community becomes a source of grace and blessings. God yearns for us to gather and be His people so that we “may prosper.”