Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
Readings: Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 16:19-31
Some readings go for the jugular. Today’s readings go straight for the heart, somewhat like a cardiac catheter: probing, testing our coronary vasculature for signs of sickness . . . or worse.
We are, of course, all heartsick, “beyond remedy.” So says the prophet Jeremiah, ancient Israel’s leading heart specialist. Second opinion? There is none. God alone “tests the heart.”
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art . . .1
Gross anatomy. It’s where every first year medical student learns to decipher the signs left on the very fabric of the human body by a lifetime of action . . . and inaction. Every plaque, every lesion, every rupture tells a story. By then, though, under the halogen glare of the laboratory lights, it is too late.
Just as it was too late for the rich man in Jesus’ probing parable. Like poor Lazarus, he too “died and was buried.” We can imagine he suffered from coronary artery disease, for he “dined sumptuously each day.” In truth, though, he was dead long before the grave. What really killed him was a heart pathologically closed to poor Lazarus at his very doorstep. How many times, we wonder, did he pass Lazarus by, unaware? Even his dogs stopped to lick the poor man’s sores!
How many times do we pass by those in need?
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” (Matt. 24:37-39)
In such a wanting world as ours, it is overwhelming to think how we might respond in faith to all those in need. Perhaps we could begin, as Jesus bids us, by considering how perilously distant we often prefer to be, in this life, from the unpleasant sights, sounds, and smells of our needy neighbors.
As invitations go, it’s downright heart-stopping.
Paul J. Wojda, Ph.D.
1T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, “East Coker”