Daily Reflection
March 15th, 2001
Gene Selk
Philosophy Department
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Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalms 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6
Luke 16:19-31
Heinrich Aldegrever 
Lazarus Begging for Crumbs from Dives's Table 
German, 1552
Pen and brown ink, brown wash, traces of black chalk, incised for transfer.
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
(Click on image to enlarge.)

The reading from Jeremiah is about trust in God versus trust in other persons.  Jeremiah uses some wonderful metaphors.  A person who trusts in humans rather than God is like a juniper in the desert.  A person who trusts in God is like a tree planted next to a stream.  Taken too literally, Jeremiah’s message might strike the modern reader as contrary to our usual view of mental health.  Is it not healthy to trust other persons?  A person who is overly isolated (a “loner”) and suspicious of others is not a healthy person, and not a person whom we normally think of as close to God.  But at second glance, the reading is not saying that we should close ourselves off from other persons.  In the world of the Old Testament, relationships with others was a primary value.  Jeremiah is chiding those who trust only in humans and neglect their relationship with God.  Indeed, this is an old theme in the Hebrew scriptures.  One way of reading the story of Adam and Eve is that they thought they did not need God, that they were self-sufficient.  Jeremiah is simply restating this theme, but with wonderfully picturesque metaphors.  We do not find fullness of life by going it alone, but only by living in communion with our Creator.  This is countercultural in the Western world with its emphasis on individualism.  This is a appropriate reflection for Lent.  Small fasts and denials serve the purpose of reminding us of our dependence on God and on other persons. 

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (the rich man is often called Dives from the Latin for “wealth”) is one of the best known and most moving of the parables in the New Testament.  The story is one of the sources for the Church’s position on preferential concern for the poor.  But in these reflections, I will focus on the great chasm between the rich man and Lazarus in the afterlife.  What kind of chasm is this?  I suggest that we should not think of it as a spatial chasm.  After all, God’s action sustains all, at all times and places.  Rather, we might think of it as a chasm in values and outlook.  Lazarus lived his life, we might imagine, open to others and to God.  The rich man on the other hand lived a life concerned only for himself and his family and neglected his relationship with God.  (Even after Abraham rejects his plea for some relief, the rich man asks Abraham to warn his five brothers so that they might be spared.  The rich man is still primarily concerned with his family.)  To place the parable in the contemporary world, we might say that the rich man represents the confident, brash, individualist, the person who says that one should always look out for “number one.”  (In the New Testament world, this would have included one’s extended family.)  Lazarus, on the other hand, represents the person who is primarily concerned with the well-being of others, who is selfless, and who often suffers because of this.  This parable mirrors the message of Jeremiah.  All of us need to reexamine how much of the rich man’s outlook and values are within us. 

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