“My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad.”
Elizabeth Smart was 14 years old when she was kidnapped from her family home in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States, on the night of June 5, 2002. Her abductor, Brian David Mitchell, took her to a hidden mountain site less than 2 miles from her home where he held her captive, repeatedly raped her, drugged her with alcohol and chained her to a post. She called it the “9 months of hell” in her life. She was found after 9 months and her captor and abuser is now deservedly serving life sentence. Elizabeth is now 28 years and she is a public speaker, a passionate and effective advocate for abuse prevention, bringing hope and courage to those who are facing abuse. She said, “I love my life now and I cannot believe how beautiful it is.”
Her story evokes many “why?” questions: Why did this evil happen to Elizabeth? Why did God allow this to happen to this innocent child? Why did it take 9 months to find her if she was less than 2 miles from the house? Such questions cause us to miss out what makes this story beautiful – the ending and the lesson that it teaches us about God and our pains in life.
First, God knows her well and every single thing that she went through in that ordeal.Secondly, God knows the good that she can do with His grace. Thirdly, God knows well the evil that she can endure and overcome with His grace. Lastly, she did not disappoint God – she endured and overcame the evil that came her way and she did the good that God expected from her. From 9 months in a living hell she has become a public speaker and advocate for abuse prevention and support for those in recovery.
Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus also evokes many “why” questions. Why is Lazarus wretched, homeless, and pitiable and the rich man exceedingly rich and comfortable? Why is the rich man in hell and Lazarus in heaven? Did the rich man’s wealth condemn him to the netherworld? Did Lazarus’s poverty merit heaven for him?
We have to look at the story’s ending to find an answer in Abraham’s words to the rich man in his torments, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad.” This means that God knows both of them very well as well as everything that they went through in life. God knows well the good that they could do with His grace as well as the evil that they could endure and overcome with His grace. The rich man disappointed God till the end of his life while Lazarus met God’s expectation.
The rich man failed to do the good that he could do with the blessings that God gave him. There is a reason why God blessed him with so much wealth and placed the pitiable Lazarus at his door step for him to practice charity in action. The chasm between the rich man and Lazarus in the afterlife is only a divine validation of the chasm that the rich man forged between himself and Lazarus in his earthly life. Lazarus however endured the hardship that God expected of him with patience till the very end. He is an example of complete resignation, trust in God, and refusal to harbor resentments towards the better privileged.
In Second Reading, St. Paul reminds the young Timothy that in good or bad times, he has the grace to do the good for which he has been called, “But you man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” By focusing on Christ, “who gave testimony under Pontus Pilate,” Timothy can “keep the commandments without stain or reproach until the appearance of Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ gave witness to the Father throughout His earthly life. His faithful witness did not waver even when He came face to face with Pilate and his death sentence during the low moments of His Passion. He met His Father’s expectation by never doubting His Father’s knowledge of what He was going through and by His determination to please His Father alone, “He who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.” (Jn 8:29)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good and bad things happen to us in this life. How easily we ask, “Why do bad things happen to me?” but we never ask, “Why do good things happen to me?” We tend to focus exclusively on the “Why’s?” of the bad moment partly because we are trying to meet the expectations of everyone else but God’s.
God has made us in His image and likeness and for Himself, He has redeemed us in His Son Jesus Christ as His children, and has given us a participation in His Spirit of goodness. At every moment of our lives, good or bad, God has high expectations and great demands on the way that we respond to life’s events. In short, we are called to be saints in these events, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”(1Thes 4:3) God expects that we freely choose a way of life patterned after His Son by the power of the Spirit that He has given to us in Jesus Christ.
If we are to meet God’s expectations for us at every moment, we must have unshakable faith in these truths: “God knows me and all that I am going through now. He knows the good that I can do with His grace and the evil that I can endure and overcome with His grace.” Such a faith must be backed with a convicted resolution not to disappoint Him by the help of His grace.
Sometimes we will fail Him and not meet His expectations. Rather than despair, we return to those truths and beg God to stamp them deeper into our hearts. Moments of failure and trial call us to deeper faith that God know our strengths and weaknesses more than we do and He never rejects us but He is ever ready to forgive us and to give us the needed grace to do the good and overcome the evils of our lives. He is ever faithful, “God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1Cor 10:13) He knows well our desire to do good, to overcome evil, and to love Him because all these good things come from Him. Above all, He knows what His grace can do in us if in all the moments of our lives we are resolute to meet His expectations alone and not that of the world or our self-seeking goals.
There is a heaven and a hell because God has gifted us and has great expectations of us. We choose hell when we choose to ignore the power of God’s gift, to be uncaring about meeting God’s expectations of us in this life, to seek our own goals alone and to ignore the call to strive to do the good that He has gifted us to do and to endure and overcome the evil that we can.
God gave Mary the greatest good, the author of grace Himself, Jesus Christ. She too had her good and bad good moments in life. She fled into Egypt with Jesus, looked for Him for three days, and journeyed with Him to Calvary. But she met God’s expectations from her, even when He expected her to silently watch her Son die the most unjust death on the Cross and to consent in faith and love to His death for our salvation. She no longer asked the question she asked many years earlier in the Jerusalem temple, “Why have you done this to us?” but she lived with the conviction that God knew her well, “He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid.” She can teach us this lesson and impress it deep in our hearts if we look to her at those moments when life deals us its bad blow.
The Eucharist is an encounter with the God who knows us and all that we are going through in life today. He knows the good that we can do and the evil that we can endure and overcome by the grace that He pours into our hearts today. Our lives too can have a beautiful ending despite all the ups and downs of life if only we are firmly resolved to meet His expectations now and always by the grace that He offers to us in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!