Summary: If we listen to the word of God and trust in His promises, we will have a happy, fruitful life even if everything around us is going to pieces.
Thursday of the 2nd Week in Lent 2019
Karma or Compassion?
Only St. Luke among the four Gospel writers records this story of the rich man and the poor beggar, Lazarus. A superficial reading of the words may suggest to us that this is an example of the Asian principle of “karma,” where the good or evil quality of one’s living in this life has an impact on the “nature and quality of future lives.” But there is only one future life, and that is the everlasting continuation of the one we are living right now. So let’s look more deeply into the Scriptures and see what St. Luke, inspired by God, is communicating to us from the lips of Jesus. And to do that, we need to remember that St. Luke’s Gospel is the Gospel of compassion and the Gospel of Blessed Poverty.
Let’s begin with words from Jeremiah, which are either prophetic words heard from God, or an editorial comment by Jeremiah: “The [human] heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” God made humans with an innate desire for Himself. We are complete only when our hearts are totally attuned to God’s will, and ready for eternal union with Him. But we are easily distracted by the other goods that God has placed on the earth, and our weak wills are tugged in this direction or that, toward the attitudes that place other goods before God in our hearts. We call those tendencies the seven deadly sins, but they are really seven deadly attitudes that, if acted upon, have sinful, deadly results. They are, as we know, pride, lust, avarice, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. Jeremiah says that those who follow those attitudes are cursed, even in this life.
The one, on the other hand, who trusts in the Lord, whose trust IS the Lord, is blessed like a tree that is planted right next to a flowing stream. If we listen to the word of God and trust in His promises, we will have a happy, fruitful life even if everything around us is going to pieces. I’ll explain more about that in a moment, but now we can turn to the rich man and Lazarus.
The rich man treats himself like an emperor–he even wears purple, linen garments, something totally out of reach to the poor and middle class. And he gives himself a banquet in this life, it says, every day. Lazarus is in wretched condition laid out at his gate, begging for scraps from the banquet. We aren’t told whether he actually got any; the implication is that the only beings who paid him any attention were dogs that came to lick his sores. So they both die, and the poor man is rewarded for his faithfulness by lying in the arms of Father Abraham, progenitor of the Hebrew race. The unnamed rich jerk is buried, and his soul goes to Hades, which is the Greek version of Sheol, the place of the dead and forgotten. He raises his eyes toward heaven and sees Abraham and Lazarus and longs for a drop of water, given in compassion by Lazarus. But it is impossible. He will live–sort of live–forever with an unquenchable thirst, tormented by flames. Yes, he went to hell. He lived on earth in selfishness, in concerns only for his own comfort and pleasure, so there was nothing of substance in his soul when he died. What a waste. Meanwhile, Lazarus learned the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God. He was poor and humble in possessions and in spirit, and thus came to be invited to the eternal banquet. In whatever way we can, we should imitate that example.
St. Enda is our saint of the day, March 21. This name, little known in the U.S., is well known in Ireland for this fifth and sixth century saint is honored as the "patriarch of Irish monasticism" in that country. Of noble blood, Enda gave up a warrior life to become a priest at the urging of his abbess sister, Fanchea. He spent time and made vows at the Scottish abbey of Candida, and returned to Ireland to the Aran islands in Galway Bay to establish monasticism. “Enda's monks imitated the asceticism and simplicity of the earliest Egyptian desert hermits. . .The monks of Aran lived alone in their stone cells, slept on the ground, ate together in silence, and survived by farming and fishing.” In other words, they lived the life of Lazarus, without the sores, trusting in the Lord alone. Their home became a site of pilgrimage. Enda did many other notable good works, but it was his life of poverty and prayer that stand as examples for all of us, as he and his disciples enjoy the banquet of the kingdom of God. And so we can say, “Saint Enda, we are needful of a spirit of poverty like yours, pray for us.”