Why do the wicked prosper? No one knows, but ancient Jewish thinkers reminded the faithful that appearances are not always what they seem.
The recent death of author and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel reminds us that we are living at a time when the survivors of the Holocaust are becoming fewer. The eyewitnesses to the horrors of the Nazi extermination program have done all they can do to entrust the memory and the responsibility of what happened to the next generations. How will we handle this awesome responsibility?
Christmas approaches with its usual frenzy of decorations, shoppers, carols, cookies, and lights—all wrapped in joy, peace, and goodwill that is often, sadly, as thin as colored tissue paper. But this year, it’s even harder to “get into the spirit.” Hearts are heavy with grief and fear, especially following the deadly and deliberate attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.
Yet, another reality coexists with this present evil, just as it did on the first Christmas, when human misery also abounded—the reality of goodness.
As practitioners of Jesus’ teachings, our conduct certainly should be characterized by charity, but a helping hand with strings attached or expectations appended is not pleasant. This constitutes one of the mysterious aspects of the kingdom of heaven. It is The Transparent Agenda, a mandate to do good to all without prejudice and without expectations.
Reading a passage from the New Testament against the backdrop of ancient Jewish tradition can sometimes add to the its significance. Romans 11:30-36 is one such passage, where without knowing the Jewish tradition to which Paul alluded, we run the risk of not hearing his emphasis clearly: God is merciful and his ways, incomprehensible.
The Gospel writer Luke recorded a story that Jesus told about an anonymous rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Living in splendor, the rich man enjoyed his wealth, whereas Lazarus pined away outside the rich man’s gated home. The story gives the reader the impression that the rich man did little to alleviate Lazarus’ pain. He probably reasoned that what was his was his, and what was Lazarus’ was Lazarus’.
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