Summary: The rich man was isolated, even from his brothers. True faith comes usually from someone sharing it with us.
Thursday of the Second Week of Lent 2014
Recently we discovered an infestation of what are called “acrobat” ants, Crematogaster hespera, in our house. We had the pest control folks treat the house with good success. The treatment was a chemical friendly to the good fauna but deadly to the ants. It is a non-repellant, which means the chemical can be transferred by contact from ant to ant, and eventually back to the queen. But more on that later.
Today both OT and NT give us a choice, and it’s stark. Blessed are the ones who trust in the Lord, because they are like trees planted near water, that bloom all the time. Cursed are the ones who trust in human beings, who are like scrub oaks in the wilderness. They are doomed to be unfruitful and die. Jesus then gives us a story of a poor person who dies–probably of starvation–and the rich man who refused to help him. The rich man dies, too, and is buried. He is tormented in the nether world–we’d call it hell. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus, the poor man, to witness to his brothers, so they would repent and not end up in the same place. But Abraham refuses to do that. Jesus gets a real zinger in for the Pharisees, then, by saying, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.” Of course, this is a commentary on why the Jews of St. Luke’s day refused to believe in the true Messiah, Jesus the Nazorean.
It might have been effective, this witness to the brothers, had it been carried out by the rich man himself. I recall from my years as a salesman–of life insurance, no less–that the strongest prospects were folks introduced to me by a friend. If Joe bought from me, and was satisfied, he could share that good news with Charlie, and then Charlie would see for himself.
The popes agree: “Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love, heard his voice and received his light, cannot keep this gift to themselves. Since faith is hearing and seeing, it is also handed on as word and light. . .The word, once accepted, becomes a response, a confession of faith, which spreads to others and invites them to believe.” It’s like the ant poison, except it is a force for good, not death.
The light of Christ “is a light reflected from one face to another, even as Moses himself bore a reflection of God’s glory after having spoken with him: “God… has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). The light of Christ shines, as in a mirror, upon the face of Christians; as it spreads, it comes down to us, so that we too can share in that vision and reflect that light to others, in the same way that, in the Easter liturgy, the light of the paschal candle lights countless other candles. Faith is passed on, we might say, by contact, from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another. Christians, in their poverty, plant a seed so rich that it becomes a great tree, capable of filling the world with its fruit.
“The transmission of the faith not only brings light to men and women in every place; it travels through time, passing from one generation to another. Because faith is born of an encounter which takes place in history and lights up our journey through time, it must be passed on in every age. It is through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus. But how is this possible? How can we be certain, after all these centuries, that we have encountered the “real Jesus”? Were we merely isolated individuals, were our starting point simply our own individual ego seeking in itself the basis of absolutely sure knowledge, a certainty of this sort would be impossible. I cannot possibly verify for myself something which happened so long ago. But this is not the only way we attain knowledge. Persons always live in relationship. We come from others, we belong to others, and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others. Even our own knowledge and self-awareness are relational; they are linked to others who have gone before us: in the first place, our parents, who gave us our life and our name.”
Ants have brains measured in micrograms; they have no ability to reason or will the good. They communicate by passing chemicals from one ant to the next. So we call their homes “colonies.” Humans, though, learn relationships in a family, a place where we learn to love selflessly. The ant’s selflessness is programed into its DNA. Ours is learned, ours is willed. We learn it from Jesus Christ; we will it because it is the same as our Father’s will in heaven.