|“Dives and Lazarus” (detail) by Bonifacio Veronese, 1540s|
Reading I: Jeremiah 17:5-10
Commentary on Jer 17:5-10
This passage from Jeremiah is part of the wisdom sayings (Sapiential Sayings). The first of these sayings uses opposition or comparison imagery to demonstrate that the wise person trusts in God while the foolish one trusts in his own strength or the help of others. The psalms and other wisdom literature often borrow this imagery to portray the true heart of faithfulness (see Psalm 1 below).
The second saying describes the root of evil, the human heart whose secret plotting is transparent to God. The prophet describes how the Lord God, who is all-knowing, sees the heart of each person and will reward or punish each as they deserve.
CCC: Jer 17:5-6 150
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6
R. (40:5a) Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Commentary on Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and6
Psalm 1 serves as a preface to the whole book of the psalms. The psalmist here exalts those who follow the Lord’s commands and reflects upon the blessings they will receive. As in Romans 6:19ff, this selection emphasizes the contrast between the salvation of the just and the punishment of the wicked.
This wisdom psalm begins by extolling the virtue of those who follow the law. The focus is to look to God for guidance and not to trust only in the counsel of men. Those who reject the law will be blown away like “chaff,” an image used in the Gospel as well (Matthew 3:12).
This portion of the psalm is later echoed in Isaiah 48:17-19 like an overlapped formula of covenant. Blessed is the man who “delights in the Law day and night,” but “the way of the wicked vanishes.” It also takes up the theme of following right paths and staying true to the teachings of God: “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.”
Gospel: Luke 16:19-31
Commentary on Lk 16:19-31
The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (The name "Dives," applied to the rich man derives from the Latin word "rich" originating in the Vulgate from "Homo quidam erat dives, qui induebatur purpura et bysso, et epulabatur quotidie splendide," some ancient texts name him "Nineveh") is found only in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus addresses this story to the Pharisees who were known to be fond of money. In this context we need to understand that all Jewish landowners were considered to be tenants of Yahweh, the true landowner, and they all owed a tax to God’s representatives, the poor.
The rich man’s great sin was ignoring the suffering of Lazarus, and when they both had passed from this life to the next, the rich man, suffering torment, begged Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers. The “punchline” that follows must have been especially harsh for the Pharisaic audience. "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead." This last statement, of course, is also alluding to his own rejection by the scribes and Pharisees even after his own resurrection.
Scripture today has a hook at the end. In the reading from Jeremiah and the Psalm we are reminded that if what we do does not come from the Lord, it will be for naught. It is a strong injunction against pride and a reminder that all that we can accomplish that is good comes, not from our own efforts, but from God. It is he who gives us the strength and will of purpose to accomplish the good work he puts in front of us.
That is not to say it is preordained. No, as we see in the parable of Lazarus in the Gospel, we all have choices. God made us in his own image and likeness. Part of that gift is the ability to choose right from wrong. In his life, the rich man in the story of Lazarus chose to ignore the beggar at his door. He chose the best for himself during his life on earth, even though it would not have cost him dearly to help Lazarus. And finally, when it was too late, the rich man found the truth. He was reminded forcibly by Abraham that kindness and help for those who are poor were parts of the Law of Moses, even before it was strengthened by Christ’s specific injunction to love one another.
Then we come to the hook at the end of the story. The last line says; ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’” Jesus admonishes the Pharisees whose piety is inwardly directed and at the same time sends a message. Across two millennia, he lets us know that we too have been given the law, the prophets, and a Savior who has risen from the dead. The story of Lazarus is meant as a reminder to us about what our choices can mean for our eternal life.
In this season, as we reflect upon our past mistakes, let us take the story of Lazarus as an injunction to evaluate our future decisions and choose life. We have, after all, been given one who was raised from the dead as a sign.