When I read over the Propers for this Eucharist the Jeremiah passage immediately appealed to me. I have heard many sermons on the Gospel text about the rich man and Lazarus, I may have preached one myself, but not recently. As I said in the sermon, upon reading the Jeremiah passage I could see the several desert settings in my mind’s eye. In fact I even have several pictures of the three sites that I mention in the sermon, in the mini-album of pictures I took during my time in Israel/Palestine in 2006. I also have undeveloped film in the camera I took with me to Las Vegas this January Away Week, waiting to finish the rest of the roll of film, pictures of some Joshua Trees in the Mohave Desert, and of the two Thai monks who took me there. I don’t think I ever took any pictures of any of the desert areas in Eastern or central Washington State. I was too young when there was still a lot of desert land there, and since the completion of the Grand Coulee Dam and the development of Lake Roosevelt, much of the former desert land has been developed into irrigation districts and farm land. Finally, as a monk much of our monastic spirituality is based on the ancient Desert Fathers and Mothers. There is still provision in modern monastic life for Desert Experiences.
David Allen, SSJE
Our Reading from the Prophet Jeremiah today presents us with a contrast and comparison. Those who trust only in mere mortals are like a dry shrub in the desert. Those who trust in the Lord, shall be like a tree planted by water that sends out roots, and its leaves stay green.
Our first reading for today from Jeremiah presents us with contrasting pictures of a shrub in the desert and a tree planted beside the water. Each of these represents a different kind of response to life. Both of them evoke in my mind pictures of places I have seen. They are parables of the human condition.
The shrub in the desert reminds me of the scraggly bushes on the rocky hills of Israel/ Palestine that I saw when I was one of the chaplains to a group at St. George’s College, Jerusalem a few years ago. (2006) The same image reminds me of some of the desert wildernesses I have seen here in America; in the central part of the State of Washington, travelling there many times with my parents as a boy. I remember barren hills with clumps of sage brush growing here and there, along with outcroppings of rock and piles of dried tumble weeds along the barbed wire fences. I am also reminded of deserts in Eastern Oregon, Nevada, and parts of Southern California, with a similar scarcity of plant life, and vast salt flats. As I read the portion of Jeremiah that we heard as the first reading today I knew that the Prophet Jeremiah had seen the same kind of landscape as these, and used that image to illustrate the condition of those who put their trust in mere mortals, and in their own strength, and turn away from God. (Jer. 17:5-6) Those shrubs remain small and offer very little nourishment for the wildlife or flocks of sheep grazing there. In the same way the souls of those who trust only themselves and turn away from God are small.