Reflection on the Scriptures
While still writing down stuff about my trip to California and all the reflections from that adventure, I thought I’d pause for a bit and write down some thoughts about the scriptures from a couple of Sundaes…I mean, Sundays ago.
So, here’s my initial question – Why did this Epistle (2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9) and this Gospel Lesson (Luke 16:19-31) get put together in the lectionary? I mean, how does Paul learning that God makes him strong in his weaknesses have anything to do with Christ’s parable about Lazarus and the Rich Man? Ok, I have no idea really, but after thinking about it, I have my own guesses; which of course, I will subject you to now.
At first I didn’t get it. We discussed both of them at BBS that week. We spent more time discussing the gospel passage than St. Paul’s letter. Why? Well, because the lesson from 2 Cor. seemed pretty self explanatory. Our discussion on the Gospel kind of went all over the place – from what God thinks about wealth, to helping someone in hell – and while the discussion was good and helpful, it still kind of baffled me why the two scriptures were put together.
Then, on Sunday after liturgy it kind of hit me. One of the things we had discussed at BBS was that, while it would seem that Jesus kind of has it out for the wealthy, He never says that it was wrong for the Rich Man to be rich. He simply says,
“But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.'”
Basically, it would seem that He’s saying, “Hey, you had everything and you decided to keep it all for yourself; and Lazarus who asked you for help and you pretty much ignored him; while he had nothing still he remembered to be thankful for what little he had. So now, because of YOUR choices, you are living in the reality you created for yourself while you were still alive, and Lazarus is living in his. And unbelievably now that you see it all for what it is, and after all you did and did not do to Lazarus you want him to help YOU?!? Wow. The thing of it is, while Lazarus probably would help you because he is good, he cannot because you’ve cut yourself off. You didn’t get it before, and you obviously still don’t get it. It’s all about you and yours isn’t it?” (Luke paraphrase version)
I think that basically Paul’s reflection appears with this Gospel because it’s a good reminder that God always gives us everything that we need – which ultimately is simply Him – and it’s up to us to decide how to use what we’ve been given. Sometimes we don’t like the hand that we’re dealt, whether it’s a “thorn in the flesh” or a life full of pain and torment. And of course when we don’t like the way the cards fall, it’s easy to look around and say, “What did I do wrong God?” Maybe if you could just give me that “thorn” instead of what I got? Why is he rich? He’s an ass! He has NO idea what to do with what he’s been given! And then God comes and says, “Hey, you got what you got. Be made perfect IN ME. In your weakness you are strong. You have EXACTLY what you need. Stop looking only at your little life and look beyond yourself for once.”
Paul’s given a burden; a thorn in the flesh. The Rich Man is given Lazarus. Both of them opportunities for growth and precisely what they needed to overcome the unique part of the fallen nature that they had inherited. While it seems that Jesus is constantly harping on the rich, I think more than anything he’s constantly pointing out the “comfort” that we all slip into so easily, rich or poor. C.S. Lewis of blessed memory puts it like this,
“Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.”
I think the conclusion that I’ve come to is that the trap is the same, no matter who you are. It’s quite a simple trick when you think about it. Focus on yourself and you’ll forget to focus on God and the world around you. Whether it be your own sins, “thorns”, problems, poverty, sores, misfortune, riches, possesions, hopes, dreams, wants, needs, successes, failures, pride, guilt, shame, defeat, victories, feelings, fears, etc.; it’s all about you. Let’s face it, Lazarus’s life sucked – at least from our point of view, (and probably his too) it sucked. But he gave it back to God. The Rich Man had a good life – from our point of view. But he kept it for his own and gave nothing back to God or those around him. And in the end, because it was all about him, he was utterly alone, even beyond death. Jesus never says in the story “what” the torment was that the Rich Man was living in, nor what the chasm was that lay between Abraham and Lazarus and the Rich Man – only that niether could cross into the other’s space because of the void. The thought that we can do that to ourselves – that’s more frightening than anything I can imagine here on Earth…
“My brothers, unhappily for us, paradise or hell does not depend on God. If it depended on God, we would have nothing to fear. We have nothing to fear from Love. But it does not depend on God. It depends entirely upon us, and this is the whole tragedy.” ~Alexander Kalomiros (from “The River of Fire” – Read the entire text HERE.)
Lord have mercy, and give us light enough for the next step, strength for the journey, patience to endure all things, and the hope that drives out all fear.