The prophet Jeremiah has a stern warning for us today- “cursed in the man who trusts in human beings”. Why are the words of the prophet so harsh?
Context is important and the context of the prophet’s words is the political, economic, religious and cultural situation that beset the Israelites as the once mighty Kingdom of David was coming to an end.
Jeremiah proclaimed the Lord’s word of truth in the catastrophic time immediately before and then during (and after) the events of 587 BC. Remember, this was the year that the Kingdom of David came crashing down on the Israelites. They were defeated by the Babylonian Empire and Jerusalem was completely destroyed.
Jeremiah is saying that for too long the Israelites have sought political, economic, solutions for their problems, rather than turning to God for his answers, they have ignored God, thinking they have the solutions, placing their trust in political and economic theories, rather than in God.
Where has this led the Israelites? The prophet Jeremiah insists that the means the Israelites are employing is resulting in their own destruction. The Israelites have deluded themselves into thinking that their predicament is political, or economic and the solution is merely the application of yet another political or economic theory to their circumstances.
Jeremiah believes the predicament of the Israelites is deeper than the political and economic. The problem is a matter of politics or economics, but of the soul for which conversion to the Lord is the only solution. The Israelites were soul-sick and this was the source of their woes.
The Israelites did not believe the prophet Jeremiah’s assessment was correct. To the very end, they trusted, that through the machinations of politics and economics they could avoid responsibility for their sins. The events of 587 BC would demonstrate that Jeremiah was right and that the preference to trust in worldliness, in human beings, rather than in God, had led to destruction.
The parable presented by the Lord Jesus in his Gospel is as hard and uncompromising as the warning of the prophet Jeremiah. The rich man, preoccupied with his wealth and the worldly pleasures it affords him, ignores the beggar Lazarus whom he must literally walk over in order to enter or leave his house.
One can interpret the beggar Lazarus as God’s offer of grace, the means that God was using to save the rich man from the idolatry of wealth and pleasure. But alas! God’s overture could not have been more blatant. The rich man’s worldly pre-occupations obstructed his spiritual vision him and prevented him from seeing the offer of grace that would have saved him.
The rich man had everything that his wealth could afford and in the end he lost his soul.
Being materially prosperous is not by necessity sinful, but being selfish is gravely sinful. Cardinal George once opined that while the poor need the rich to keep them out of poverty, the rich need the poor to keep them out of hell. The late Cardinal’s words are as hard and uncompromising as they are true.
And they are also the most succinct summation of the lesson of Christ’s parable.