Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1:1-4, 6; Lk 16:19-31: They are like chaff which the wind drives away. Who are they? They are the wicked. What a great metaphor. What a great image. Today’s psalm and today’s first reading are almost identical. This comparison is proclaimed in both. The wicked are not just clueless. They are deliberately clueless. They do not realize that every human being is precious in the eyes of the LORD. Indeed, everyone is called to be a son and daughter of the Most High. The wicked are not aware of the dignity of all God’s children nor do they want to be aware. They make no effort to see the image and likeness of God in those around them, especially the ones they see and take for granted each day. These do not hope in the LORD. The wicked do not seek out the counsel of the just. They are at home with fellow sinners with those who are quite satisfied with being sinners, with the insolent. The wicked never know the delights of the law of the LORD; they have no time to call it to mind and savor its delight. These joyless and empty fools are like trees planted in the emptiness and dryness of desert places; their branches bear bitter fruit when they are not barren altogether. They never prosper, but like chaff the wind whisks them away and they vanish into the empty night sky.
Both the prophet Jeremiah and the psalmist ponder the mystery of evil and its consistent presence in human life. They reflect upon evil and evildoers in the light of the metaphor about the two trees planted. Jeremiah, however, goes a little deeper in asking this question. “More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? No one can understand it, not the prophet nor the one who has a tortuous, broken, twisted, wounded, evil, stubborn, resentful, heart. Indeed, we are a mystery to ourselves. Why do we prefer evil to good? Why do we not trust the LORD? Why not place our hope in God? Only the LORD can probe the mind and test the heart. Only the LORD understands us completely and loves us still. All we can ever know with certitude about our hearts is that they are tortuous and fearful. We know that our motivations are always mixed. We may want the good and choose the good, but for what motivation do we choose the good? Sometimes we do the most heroic and generous things just to be respected and honored in the human community. Sometimes even the most dangerous and sacrificial things that we do are done because we could not live with ourselves if we did not at least try to do the good. Only the LORD knows us well enough to reward all people according to the merit of their deeds. It is the LORD’s intimate knowledge of our hearts that gives us the hope of glory as the journey of Lent continues. We trust that the LORD will see our true self and be merciful.
Even the dogs had more comfort to offer Lazarus than did the rich man who dressed in purple and dined sumptuously each day. The rich man never even noticed that one of his brothers in the LORD was near and needy. The rich man seems to have developed compassion after dying and being buried. He was worried about his seven brothers who were likewise clueless and insolent. He did not want them to suffer the torments he was suffering. This rich man was convinced that if someone would rise from the dead then everyone would listen and be persuaded to recognize the need for compassion and for being compassionate. However, Abraham knew all too well that even such a great sign and wonder would not convince many. If they were not convinced by the preaching and prophetic actions of Moses and the other prophets neither would they be persuaded if someone would rise from the dead. The Lord Jesus, who would rise from the dead, and his church, who would witness to that resurrection, are painfully aware of how to tortuous is the human heart. Only the Holy Spirit can enter into this dark and dangerous place and with his fiery love purify and expand the human heart. Perhaps that same Holy Spirit who inspired this parable will enter our tortuous hearts and we will wake up to welcome Lazarus. Perhaps then will Lazarus welcome us home to the Father’s bosom.