There is a hopeful theme of restoration in the first lesson from Jeremiah. The promise is that a day will come when the land will no longer be occupied and the deed will be good. So, like a few years back in the real estate bubble when houses had fallen into default and property in many places was a bargain, Jeremiah was instructed to pick up a bargain property for a song that will eventually appreciate in value. So, although that lesson does not appear to be very hopeful, there is vision and hope for the future despite the great duress of the present time.
It reminds me of the old joke about the day that the people in church were asked to name their favorite passages in scripture, and one fellow stood up, and said that he couldn’t remember the chapter and verse, but his favorite passage contained these words, “And it came to pass.” He explained that scripture was full of plenty of instances when trouble and difficulties came down the pike, but in each instance “it came to pass.”
That reading from Jeremiah is in the same vein.
But through the wonders of the Revised Common Lectionary, while Jeremiah may be about the acquisition of property, the other two readings appear have a fair amount of antipathy towards wealth. So, Paul writes Timothy that
“those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
Now in fairness, this passage is generally misquoted as “money is the root of all evil.” But what the passage is about is a fundamental discontentment—the desire to pursue fame and fortune regardless of the people one tramples under foot; scheming and plotting without regard to moral and ethical considerations; holding that the end always justifies the means. And the news is full of those who in their eagerness to achieve fame and fortune have pierced themselves with many pains. Just turn on the news or pick up People Magazine to appreciate just how appropriate that turn of phrase actually is.
Everyone dreams of hitting it big in the lottery, but there have been many studies that demonstrate that the winners, unless they have the wisdom to receive the proper coaching almost always wind up in a condition where they are worse off in some ways for having won.
So then we come to the Gospel about Dives and Lazarus. While it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Dives’ wealth is bad, it is not essentially bad in itself; it is how Dives chooses to use it that is bad for him. He uses it for self-indulgence, indolence, and outright indifference. His indifference to all humanity is galling; but even more so is his indifference to the plight of Lazarus, the beggar cluttering up his gate, festering right under his nose.
Dives has forgotten that all that he was and all that he had was a gift from God. And having forgotten this core tenet, he also forgot that with an abundance of giftedness there always comes an abundance of responsibility and accountability.
Most of us may not dress in purple and dine sumptuously every day. But like Dives, I think that most of us struggle with the issue of our involvement with the world around us. Noninvolvement is a cultural trend, and I am not talking about such widespread issues such as our relationship with the family of humankind. I am talking about what has become a problem in education, in the not-for-profit sector, and the malaise of our culture at large. If it doesn’t directly involve me, why should I care? And that’s exactly the kind of thinking of Dives in today’s gospel.
Part of the gift of this annual focus on stewardship is that it helps us to think about our stuff and more importantly how we choose to use it. That in itself can be a very freeing thing because when we realize that we are independent of our stuff, then we can choose to be in a place where it no longer controls us.
But part of what it teaches is the necessity of our involvement with the community, the nation and the world. The bottom line is that we are called to be the people who live no longer for ourselves alone, but for the glory of God.