Preparing for Sunday anticipating this day.The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalms 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8
First Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13 or 16:10-13
When I was a very young lad, now a long time passing, my parents took us on a two-week vacation to northern Wisconsin. A neighbor-boy, who lived with his mother in a rather poor apartment stood near our increasingly-packed car and as the my siblings and I were stuffed into the back seat, our left-behind friend stuck his head in the window and said simply, “You lucky cheaters.” Our joy at leaving for vacation was diminished a little bit by these words and what he meant by them. We were lucky to have two parents, a car with lots of vacational equipment. We were lucky to be getting away to a lake and from the inner city. We were not rich; perhaps we were lucky to have a dad who loved fishing and a mother who allowed him this indulgence. But Leon, our friend was getting cheated on all these levels and so we were the cheaters, without knowing it or intending it.
We hear from a Prophet who never really wanted to do anything except trim his Sycamore trees, but God had given him a sense of right and words to tell the truth. There were cheaters in his time and they were not going to be lucky any more. Amos speaks directly to the exact way they weigh grain for sale and he puts his finger right on how they put their thumbs on the scales to cheat the buyers. They observe the religious feasts and obligations only as hindrances to their marketry.
God is sending Amos to protect the needy and poor whom the sellers are trampling and destroying. The prophet speaks on their behalf and says that all these cheaters’ deeds will be remembered by God and they will not feel lucky then. The blessings of prosperity and material abundance were given by God to be shared and care of God’s poor was, and is now, a means of praising and serving God. Religion was, and is, more than the routine observance of feasts and external traditions. Being in relationship with God has implications or responsibilities. Taking care to share with those who cannot go on vacations or have parents who care for them, is an essential element of believing in God. It would be easier, of course, to separate these elements, but Amos is sent to announce God’s displeasure with how religion is being lived by the rich and powerful.
The Gospel today continues a major theme of Luke’s tracing of the life and teachings of Jesus; earthly possessions are dangerous to our letting Jesus into our lives. A few weeks ago Luke gave us a picture of a man who talked to himself about building a bigger barn for his bumper crop, but that night he died. Last week a wandering son talked to himself about how his wealth had reduced him to a pig-pen residence and what he decided to do next. Today we hear a clever steward who has just been fired for misusing his master’s possessions. He also talks to himself about what he will do next. Jesus is addressing this story to His disciples, but more directly to the same group of Pharisees whom He addressed directly in the previous chapter, which we heard last week. Unfortunately, we do not hear the next two verses which follow today’s Gospel. “The Pharisees who loved money, heard all this and laughed at Him. He said to them, “You are the very ones who pass yourselves off as virtuous in people’s sight, but God knows your hearts. For what is thought highly of by men is loathsome in the sight of God.”
These verses put the parable of today’s Gospel in proper context. The steward has misused his master's property; money and possessions have gotten him in trouble, as with the above-mentioned barn-builder and heritage-squanderer. Jesus does not give up easily with this theme.
The steward meets his master and makes a clever decision by reducing debts owed to his master by others so that they might help him avoid the unemployment line. Jesus does appreciate the man’s technique and celebrates his accomplishments. There is a dramatic reversal then. The “children of light” are compared with the children of this world’s ways. The disciples hear this clearly, as the prudent-steward prepared for one form of his “after-life,” so are all who follow Jesus to take steps to prepare for their “after-life.” Jesus is not endorsing any form of financial cheating, but rather the taking advantage of life’s opportunities to choose real life. In Luke’s theology, taking care of the poor and needy is the best opportunity for preparing ourselves for serving God and not mammon.
Wealth is attractive and can comfortably identify ourselves as “arrived.” Jesus is inviting us to a freedom from wealth so as to keep from arriving at what fails to satisfy.
For Luke, “small matters” deal with money and the “great ones” are
what a person does with money to take care of the “left-behind” and those
who take no vacation from poverty or abandonment. We cannot serve
both God and money, because both are jealous for our attentions and worship.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook