“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”
(1 Timothy 6:10)
Yet we know that folks of means were great benefactors and supporters of not only Jesus and the Twelve, but in the discipleship of many early Christians.
Do you get uncomfortable with some of the messages we receive? I know I do, messages like:
Sell your possessions and follow me’
‘It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.’
What is wealth?
What is rich?
It is not as if we are provided with defined financial guidelines that tell us that above a certain dollar amount we have entered into the category of ‘rich’.
Or Again Are We?
‘but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.’
(1 Timothy 6:8)
Our expression of faith, through our liturgy, readings and lessons, poses questions for us to consider, regarding what our approach to life will be. What will our approach to life be as we attempt to live through the grey areas of life? Rather than simply/mindlessly comply with rigidly worded dictates.
Our guidance through these grey areas of life often comes to us through parables, such as today’s parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. Much has been written about Jesus’ use of parables as a teaching method. Do they make you think and consider?
When it comes to these parables, I sometimes feel as if I hear, but don’t completely understand. My hope and prayer is that as we reflect, we bring our heads and hearts closer together, as we experience these grey areas of life.
I am not a billionaire or millionaire. Based on any given yardstick, I am not rich, yet, I know I have bounty that many do not. I have food, clothing, shelter, and more. Sitting down to a home cooked meal, surrounded by those I love, I have thought, “I am living like a lord”.
In today’s parable Jesus describes a rich man who dresses in purple and fine linen. Purple was a very expensive dye for clothing, in that time. Jesus tells us that this man feasted sumptuously every day (not just on special occasions, but everyday). These features of Jesus’ description seem to emphasize the degree of this man’s richness.
At the gate of this rich man’s estate lay a poor man named Lazarus. Lazarus is described as being covered with sores, longing for the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table, and the dogs would come and lick his sores. I would imagine the dogs may also compete with Lazarus for those scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.
The social norms of the day were such that it was a reasonable expectation that those with more would offer something to those with less, regularly. There have been archaeological digs that have provided evidence that benches were regularly built into the walls of great estates, near the gates, where the less well off would sit and receive, those “scraps that fell from the table” of the rich.
So the rich man was very rich and Lazarus was very poor and not well. And the rich man consciously ignored Lazarus and his plight regularly, probably daily.
And upon the death of each of these men, their conditions changed. And when the rich man was told he would not receive relief from his torment and agony - he said then “Please, at least warn my brothers, so that they may avoid my fate.”
But father Abraham replies, “Your brothers have the teaching of Moses and the prophets to guide them. They should listen to them.”
The rich man says – “No, father Abraham - if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
But father Abraham says, “No, No, if they are not able to hear the messages of Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.”
Some interesting features of this particular parable occurred to me, upon reflection;
First, Lazarus is named. So often, in parables, we do not have participants personally named; rather they are identified through description only:
And the rich man seems to continue to see and hold Lazarus as a servant or less than:
‘ have Lazarus dip his finger in the water and cool my tongue’ (Luke16:24)
‘have Lazarus go to my brothers and warn them’ (Luke 16:28)
The rich man seems to see the world and his participation in it, somewhat superficially:
There seems to have been no conversion in his sight, no internal conversion or insight to see he may have participated in the world differently.
This seems to be the point attempted to be made by father Abraham regarding the rich man’s brothers: “Everything your brothers need is provided to them through the teaching of Moses and the prophets.”
Are they open to hearing the message that guides them to participate in the world in a comforting manner?
On the face of it, the status of wealth can appear to exclude one from God or keep one distant from God.
Upon reflection, though, we are guided and shepherded toward God, regardless of our socioeconomic status.
Paul and Timothy are living in the real world, a world into which we bring nothing and in the end, take nothing. As the rich man and his brothers had Moses and the prophets, we have Jesus, Paul, and Timothy telling us, “and as for those, who in the present age, are rich, be not haughty or set your hopes on the uncertainty of riches; do good, be rich in good works, generous, ready to share.”
(1 Timothy 6:17-18)
And for all of us, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.”
( 1 Timothy 6:11)
Our liturgy this week encourages us to consider where we are rich and wealthy? ;
to reflect upon, Where does our cup runneth over?
Does our pursuit or desire for richness keep us separate from God and those around us?
In contrast to the many loud and dramatic messages of this world to focus on the accumulation of things, status, and wealth, our lessons encourage to be open to messages around us centered in goodness, our priorities ordered to favor faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.
We are urged to take it upon ourselves to be still and know God and navigate the grey areas of life with kindness to ourselves and to those around us.
You know, I retired from working for 40 years in the field of addiction recovery. My friends in Alcoholics Anonymous taught me this prayer. It attempts to guide us toward the spirit of doing good, being rich in good works, generous, ready to share.
God I offer myself to Thee - to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life. May I do Thy will always. - Amen
As I have attempted to settle in to my attempts at a more disciplined or structured devotion time for self-reflection, and identify opportunities for positive change, it has occurred to me that 40 days is a significant length of time.
It is usually at this point in our 40 days of Lent that this occurs to me. Trying to incorporate spiritual discipline and time for reflection in a more concentrated and intentional way, than at other times of the year, while the world, our world, continues on as usual, with the accompanying distractions, demands on our time, and requirements. And the distractions seem particularly loud this year, the excitement of what is hopefully, a waning pandemic, mixed with the grave concerns of global events.
And as God would have it, our lectionary readings provide us encouragement, at this halfway point.
Beginning with Moses, as God captures Moses’ attention in dramatic fashion with a flaming bush, that is not consumed by the fire. Once God has Moses attention; God provides an assignment to Moses, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelite s, out of Egypt.”
From Moses’ perspective that does not seem a small, easy, or insignificant assignment, as evidenced in his response toGod, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
And God’s response, “I will be with you”, as God is with us, always.
And we receive a pep talk of sorts from Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth. The Church in Corinth is young and evolving, even exhibiting some growing pains. There have been some disagreements, debates and factions within. In today's portion, of this first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Paul makes comparisons and draws parallels between the Israelite s journey out of Egypt and the young church in Corinth.
It would appear that “people are people” pretty consistently overtime.
Remember, the Israelite s received guidance, the waters parted for them, they received manna from heaven, and water brought forth from a rock, in order to sustain them.
They experienced God’s presence through Moses, as the church members in Corinth experienced God’s presence through Christ.
And this is Paul’s cautionary tale:
Be aware of the example provided through our ancestors - idolatry, immorality, complaining, grumbling.
Paul acknowledges these elements of the human condition are shared by us all. … and the “pep talk” piece of this, is whenPaul offers the reassurance that God is faithful, with the test or with the temptation, God will provide the way of escape.
We are in between;
At this point, at this 3rd week in our observance of a holy Lent, we are reminded by Paul and Moses, that God is very present with us.
God accompanies us, sustains us, as we encounter the reality of life and how that can, at times, feel so contrary or challenging to our spiritual pursuits.
And then in today’s Gospel, we are encouraged, no, urged, to take stock, to take an inventory - and then, as a result of this inventory, change where we need to.
The stage is set for us here in the tales of the Galileans killed by Pilate and those individuals that lost their lives when the tower of Siloam fell on them.
Throughout our history as humans on Earth we have asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “Were the Galileans worse sinners than other Galileans?” Were the 18killed by the falling tower worse offenders?”
Jesus clearly answers, “No” … and then He adds that sense of urgency, “but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”This is not to be interpreted as a threat of punishment, rather, an encouragement to be aware of grace and to develop a new way of seeing.
The Gospel today, at this halfway point, reiterates our words from Ash Wednesday, - we are “invited to the observance of aHoly Lent by self examination and repentance.”
This word repentance; - to repent has been defined as, “to feel so contrite over ones sins as to change or decide to change one’s ways or to change one’s mind to a new way of seeing things.”
And I am quite struck by the parable of the fig tree, as it drives the point home:
Lent is not passive - It is action oriented - the gardener will be busy preparing the fig tree for the following year - digging, fertilizing, tending, in order to maintain life.
This parable raises questions for us, at this halfway point:
Today’s readings, taken as a whole, bring home wonderful encouragement to us, at this point in our Lenten journey:
God is with us
God is faithful
God provides the way out of testing and temptation
God urges us to action
I would like to leave you with a Lenten prayer by the Most Reverend Arthur Lichtenberger, who was presiding Bishop from 1958 until 1964.
Lord may I
Fast from judging others
Feast on Christ dwelling in them
Fast from fear of illness
Feast on the healing power of God
Fast from words that pollute
Feast on speech that purifies
Fast from discontent
Feast on Gratitude
Fast from anger
Feast on patience
Fast from pessimism
Feast on optimism
Fast from negatives
Feast on alternatives
Fast from bitterness
Feast on forgiveness
Fast from self-concern
Feast on Compassion
Fast from suspicion
Feast on Truth
Fast from gossip
Feast on purposeful silence
Fast from problems that overwhelm
Feast on prayer that sustains
Fast from worry
Feast on faith
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