Jules Does

Posts Tagged ‘jeremiah

It’s very late here, so I’ll keep this short.

Today’s readings rather wrong-footed me. Both the reading from Jeremiah and the Psalm for today used the imagery of a well-watered and fruitful tree to symbolise the person who is planted in God’s love and wisdom, capable of surviving even when everything around them seem like the desert. The tree’s deep roots give it stability and allow it to tap into the water which sustains it. By contrast, those who do not turn to God dry up and blow away, insubstantial, inhospitable and temporary.

So I thought for sure we’d have the Parable of the Sower for our Gospel reading, or some metaphor of the True Vine or something similarly agricultural. But no, we get the story of Lazarus and the rich man. This story has the power to make us a little uncomfortable, since it speaks frankly about the unbridgeable gap between Heaven and Hell (the fact that it speaks of Hell at all might be enough to make us a little uneasy, keen as we are to focus on God’s love rather than His Judgement – Lent is a good time to think about the Four Last Things). To be honest, it makes me so uncomfortable that I don’t really want to write anything about that aspect right now – I’ll leave it to you to Google around and hopefully find some words of wisdom from more qualified writers than I (here’s a really good start).

What I would like to focus on is the rich man’s request to Abraham:  “…pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.” If we have in mind the image of God as water, even the smallest hint of God and His love would be a great relief to people suffering in the scorching heat of their own wickedness (remember that the wicked were destined to blow away like chaff and are compared to a desert wasteland). Abraham refuses, and the rich man then begs him to send a messenger to his remaining brothers on Earth to warn them of the burning torments that await those who ignore God during their lives. Once more Abraham refuses, and says that the brothers can listen to Moses and the prophets (i.e. the Scriptures). The written words of God is like a great source of water, and by drinking deeply of these it is possible to remain nourished and comforted by God forever. That is significant as well, that the drying up and withering promised by Jeremiah and the Psalmist happens to the wicked not necessarily during life, but certainly after death. This might be of help to us when we see the wicked resolutely not perishing and blowing away in the wind – God is playing a longer game.

However, that is not the end of the requests – the rich man continues to ask that Lazarus be sent to warn the living of the situation they might find themselves in, but Abraham says that those who don’t believe the Scriptures wouldn’t believe what they say even if someone returned from the dead to confirm what is written. And there the parable ends, on this rather sad and sour note. But how fortunate we are to have skipped ahead a few chapters and seen that God has done it anyway – Christ passed through death and returned to tell us not of the pains that await us after death, but of the fact that He conquered death itself and that the gates of Heaven are open to us now, thanks to Him.

Frequently in the Old Testament God promises to make rivers in the desert, to take that which is dry and unfruitful and make it into a rich place full of life. We can see now that the water which will achieve this, the water that the rich man longed for in his torment, is not just any water, but the Living Water offered by Christ in His living, dying and rising.

Sorry that this is a bit brief, perhaps when I sleep on it more will occur to me, but this is what I have for now. I hope very much that it’s of use to you.

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A short meditation tonight, I think.

Today’s Old Testament, Psalm, and New Testament readings all have something significant in common: they touch on the deep problem that lies at the heart of all religions, namely the problem of evil, particularly when that evil happens to good people. Both the Psalmist and Jeremiah complain to God that the evil majority are plotting their downfall, and that the power of God now is their only hope for deliverance. Jeremiah’s prayer is especially poignant: he is being persecuted by the same people whom he defended before God. Talk about ingratitude.

In keeping with yesterday’s theme of humility, in the reading from Matthew today Christ reiterates how the Messiah must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die at the very hands of the people whom He was sent to save. And, of course, the disciples miss the point again. Rather than focussing on how the climax of Jesus’ ministry was to be His execution, they squabble over their exact placements in the throne room of heaven. All that Christ can say for certain, however, is that the sons of Zebedee (whose mother is the rather uncouth person who asks Christ for heaven’s seating plan) will suffer and die as He himself would. Moreover, he tells them all that the whole concept of heaven is bound up in the servant being greater than the master, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, that if they want to be first in heaven then they must be the servant of the very lowest person on Earth, giving their very all as He Himself was to do.

I think sometimes that when we do something good for someone, we expect gratitude or goodness in return. We expect the homeless person to smile gratefully after we give them 50p; we expect people who live on state benefits to behave better than we would expect anyone else to in order to make them somehow more deserving of the state’s support; we expect the outcast to be grateful for our company; we expect the feet we washed to stay clean, or at least not to kick us. When we don’t encounter the gratitude we think we are owed, it is tempting to stop doing good, to stop being the servant of all.

But what is it that we can learn from both Jesus and Jeremiah today? It is that sometimes we are humble and good to people who maybe don’t act very grateful, and maybe it makes us wonder whether it was worth being good to those people in the first place. Maybe, like Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren says in the above gifs, we feel that people who don’t have the good sense to respond to love with love simply don’t deserve love in the first place. And you know what, maybe they really don’t deserve it. Or perhaps questions of who deserves or doesn’t deserve love are irrelevant. Perhaps instead what really matters is our behaviour and not the reaction of others, either for good or for ill. The gratitude or otherwise of the recipients of any good deeds we might do is irrelevant.

These readings got me thinking of this quotation by Kent Keith that is often attributed to Mother Teresa (it was painted on the wall of her House in Calcutta), and I will leave you with it today.

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