Contentment

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

If you get a chance to visit the Eisenhower Library and Museum, you will want to walk through his boyhood home.  It is almost shockingly small, yet David and Ida raised six boys in it (one other died young), all of whom had successful careers.  In addition, the family income would have put them below the poverty line if we had had such a thing then.

How did that happen and why doesn’t it happen more often?

David and Ida were deeply religious and well educated, even reading the Bible in Greek.  They had daily devotions with the whole family, strict discipline, rotating chores at home, and loving, nurturing relationships within the family.  Dwight’s decision to apply for an appointment to the military academies deeply saddened his mother who was opposed to war on principle.  Yet, she accepted him as a person and did not oppose his choice.

We cannot judge the Eisenhowers as God does, but David and Ida do seem to be the kind of people Paul encouraged Timothy to be.  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  The key word is contentment.  That word seems to apply to the Eisenhower parents.  Not that they chose to be poor, but that they accepted it with grace and dignity.  They also made sure their boys had good skills to survive whatever faced them.

Dwight, Little Ike as a youth and just Ike later, served in the army for 25 years before becoming a lieutenant colonel.  Most men would have given up and taken retirement at 20, but Ike accepted the role of teacher, coach, staff member, all the while learning the skills needed for the time he was to be called on for a top position.

Contentment.  We don’t see much of that in America today.

We do see it in Paul, Lazarus, Jeremiah, and the Psalmist.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Before Jeremiah bought his grave site, before he was thrown into prison for delivering an unpopular message, even before he heard the word of the Lord, Jeremiah knew God.  He trusted God and lived according to God’s directions.  Then when God spoke to him, Jeremiah heard Him.  It’s easy to gloss over that, but don’t.  Hearing God requires living close to Him and being willing to hear.

Yes, God spoke to some people like Jacob and Jonah who were not as happy to hear from Him.  Sometimes God had to poke and prod to get his chosen one to move or to speak, but they did hear and did respond.

Don’t get the idea that Jeremiah was Mr. Perfect.  He had some bad days and some grumpy ones too.  Through it all, he never gave up on God.  To give King Zedekiah one more solid message, he bought his own grave site.  He had already told Zedekiah that all the people of the kingdom would be taken into captivity, but he also told him they would return, though not the king.  If you expect to die in Babylon, you don’t buy a grave in Judah.

Jesus found himself walking in Jeremiah’s sandals as he delivered the word of God to the people and to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes.  Just before today’s reading, we see the Pharisees responding to Jesus by “lifting up their noses” at him.  That is the literal translation for a common Middle Eastern expression even today, one showing complete disdain.

Now, he seems to move on to a topic designed to upset the Sadducees in particular.  That may not have been his intent, but it might as well have been.  Sadducees, as far as we know, rejected any notion of life after death.  Since this is the only life, we must make the most of it, so many Sadducees worked hard to accumulate wealth.  That might seem a contradiction when you learn that most priest were Sadducees.  As far as we can tell, their belief system was centered on the Temple sacrifice and worship system.  They apparently believed God could only be reached by the smoke from the holocaustic fires.

Many Pharisees were wealthy also, so both groups would have been upset by the portrayal of the rich man as so cold hearted.  After all, they put coins in the collection trumpets at the Temple.  Besides, God chose me to be rich.  I deserve it.

That attitude is on display as the rich man says, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’  He never speaks to Lazarus, even though he recognizes him, even though he knows his name.

He says, “Father, I am your son.  Send that worthless dog Lazarus to help me.”   He depends on his pedigree to get out of the fire and he still cannot accept Lazarus as his equal.  At least he does not dare chide Abraham for allowing such a nothing person at his banquet.

Abraham responds by accepting the rich man as his son.  In fact, he uses the Greek word teknon, the same word used by the father of the prodigal’s older brother.  It means, ‘my dear son’.  The most interesting point is that Abraham says that Lazarus is comforted.  Nothing was said about being healed or fed.  What Lazarus needed was comfort and the rich man gave him none.  His watch dogs showed compassion on Lazarus by trying to heal his wounds as best they could.  For Jews, dogs were only a tiny step above pigs.

Through it all, Lazarus was content in the knowledge that he was loved by God.  He never said a harsh word against the rich man, not even when he was burning for his lack of compassion.  By accepting the Love of God, he was also able to love.

Being wealthy is not a sin, but it is even more difficult to stay close to God as the bank account increases.  If there is enough ready money, why not buy that new car.  We live in America where God gave us the Interstate system, so we have to have a good set of wheels.  We consume things.  In all that hoopla, it is easy not to hear the voice of God.

Watch for the beggar at your gate.  Oh, the name Lazarus means, the one whom God helps.  My thanks to Kenneth E. Bailey for his observations on this parable.  I recommend all his books.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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