Engaging the Word: Readings for 9/25/16 (The 19th Sunday after Pentecost)

By Barbara Klugh

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary.

In this week’s readings,  Jeremiah offers hope for the future, Paul instructs Timothy and us about the proper Christian attitude regarding wealth, and Jesus tells a parable about the eternal consequences of greed.

Prophet Jeremiah by Barthélémy d’Eyck, c.1445. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Prophet Jeremiah by Barthélémy d’Eyck, c.1445. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15: Finally, we have a message of hope from Jeremiah. The year is 588 or 587 BC. Jeremiah has been a prophet for almost 40 years. His warnings of God’s judgment upon Judah for their idolatry and injustice have now taken place. As Jeremiah prophesied, punishment comes by way of an invading army. Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonians; their army is encamped in Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth; Jeremiah himself is under house arrest, “confined in the court of the guard.” So where’s the hope?

In the midst of this devastating defeat, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah (God always comes when times are toughest—we just have to listen). God told him that his cousin Hanamel would ask Jeremiah to buy his field in their hometown. According to Levitical law, property was a family heritage, and was not sold to outsiders. When this indeed happened, Jeremiah “knew that this was the word of the Lord.”

Jeremiah bought the field. The transaction is recorded in detail. It took place publicly, in the presence of many witnesses. Jeremiah had his scribe, Baruch, put the deeds in an earthenware jar for preservation. This is huge. Jeremiah’s symbolic act is a sign of faith in the future—a sign that God will eventually bring restoration to Judah. “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” And the exile ended 70 years later.

 Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16: Our psalm this week is a song of deep trust in God’s protection. Verses 14-16 are the voice of God, assuring us of his presence and care. The Oxford Bible comments, “It is striking that there is no demand for absolute righteousness in order to be saved, only love and trust of God.”

St. Timothy icon by unknown painter. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
St. Timothy icon by unknown painter. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Timothy 6:6-19: In this week’s lesson, Paul teaches Timothy about money and the right use of it. He says that we should be content with what we have. Those who want to be rich fall into a trap. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and can cause people to wander away from the faith.

Paul encourages Timothy, as a “man of God,” to pursue the Christian virtues and fight the good fight of faith. Timothy has made the good confession (probably at his baptism or ordination) as did Jesus when questioned by Pontius Pilate. Paul charges Timothy to keep to the Christian life until the coming of Christ, which God will bring about at the right time.

Paul also encourages Timothy to teach his people to set their hopes “on God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” Rather than seeking the uncertainty of riches, the people should “do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share.” That’s how to “take hold of the life that really is life.”

Lazarus at rich man’s gate by Fedor Bronnikov, 1886. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Lazarus at rich man’s gate by Fedor Bronnikov, 1886. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 16:19-31:This week’s Gospel, reported only in Luke, is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Last week’s Gospel ended with Jesus saying, “No slave can serve two masters….You cannot serve God and wealth.” Omitted in the lectionary is the fact that the Pharisees “who were lovers of money” heard this and ridiculed Jesus. So, in this week’s reading Jesus is talking to the Pharisees.

It’s a great story. A rich man has everything—fancy clothes and feasts every day. Lazarus, a poor man,  hung out at the rich man’s gate, longing for some crumbs from the rich man’s table. He had nothing, except a body covered with sores. Lazarus died, and the angels took him to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man died and went to Hades. In his torment, he saw Abraham and Lazarus and called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” Talk about someone who doesn’t get it—here he is, dead and in Hades, and he wants Lazarus to wait on him, the very person he ignored.

But Abraham tells him that he received all the good things in his lifetime, and Lazarus received evil things, so now the situation is reversed. Moreover, there is “great chasm” that cannot be crossed, so he’s out of luck.

Then the man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his five brothers, so they don’t suffer the same fate. Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” The man argues “if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Moses said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” That gives me a little shiver, when I think of all the people who are not convinced about Jesus, even after his resurrection.

In the parable, it doesn’t say that the rich man was dishonest or wicked, but we see that he did nothing to relieve Lazarus’ suffering. So his sin was the sin of indifference to the suffering right before his eyes. Before we feel superior to the rich man, we might ask ourselves how often do we, too, fail to heed the Gospel message and ignore the poor, the sick, the weak, and the vulnerable?





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