22nd September 2013. 25th Sunday of Year C
Amos 8:4-7. Amos warns that God is concerned for justice and fair play.
1 Tim 2:1-8. We pray for everyone, including public officials, hoping that all will be saved.
Lk 16:1-13. “You cannot serve God and wealth.”
First Reading: Amos 8:4-7
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Second Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-8
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all-this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;
Gospel: Luke 16:1-13
[ or, shorter version: 16:10-13]
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’
So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’
And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?
No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
When I was at school, we were asked to write an essay entitled, “The adventures of a pound note.” Nowadays what a TV series could be made tracing the history of a fifty euro note in these times. The average banknote has a life-span of just over twelve months, they say. After being well used and passing through many hands, they are recalled and incinerated. It would be fascinating to follow its story from the moment the fresh crisp note comes off the mint to its burning in the incinerator, some twelve months later. Every crease on it, every stain on it, would have its own story to tell. God only knows where it has been and what it has been spent on, good or for bad. It has its joyful mysteries and its sorrowful mysteries. It might even have its glorious mysteries. Its last owner could have used it to buy a fix of heroin or cocaine, or bribe someone to secure a contract, or buy an official’s silence. It could have been picked from a pensioner’s pocket, or paid a prostitute for her services. It could also have bought medicine for a sick child or education for a gifted one from a deprived background. And all the countless presents it might have bought to bring some joy into otherwise bleak lives. It could have been an anonymous donation to a worthy cause. It could have been a poor person’s gift to someone more needy than themselves. It could have been to the Third World and back. It could have fed a whole family there for a week.
Many people worry about devaluation. They complain about the shrinking purchasing power of their money and they about what their notes could have bought, when they were young. But in a sense money is only devalued by the use we make of it. “Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends,” Christ told his disciples, “and so make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity.” We may well be depressed at how little it can buy on High Street, but in the poor back streets of this world, it’s a precious and elusive thing.
Oscar Wilde described a cynic as “one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” A Christian should be the reverse: one who has less interest in the price of a thing than in its true value.
Where is Amos when we need him?
It was an age when the rich amassed wealth by ruthlessly exploiting and cheating the poor, when fraud and deception were normal in business and banking, when the lawyers were working for the vested interests of the wealthy rather than for justice, when city life had grown corrupt, and when religion had become empty and insincere, mere outward compliance with social custom. No, I’m not listing the ailments of society today; these were the ethical standards in Israel in the days of the prophet Amos, almost 3,000 years ago.
Amos has a sharper message for modern day social behaviour than that of any other Old Testament prophet. He lived in a prosperous period when the threat of war was small, and Israel was enjoying a cultural and economic revival. Expanding trade and commerce brought a steady drift from the country to the cities. But alongside this new prosperity was a new degree of social degradation. The fall away from true religion soon led to a corruption of justice, to wanton and decadent living and the break-up of social cohesion. Amos warned that his would be punished for these wrongs, that her wealth would vanish, her ornate houses would be torn down, and all this was to come true within a generation, when Israel was ruled by the Assyrians, the most hated and feared race in the history of the Middle East.
St Paul once wrote that “The love of money is the root of all evil.” He does not say that money itself is the root of all evil, but rather the love of money. Of course money is needed as a means of exchanging goods in every organised society. But a person can become its slave through excessive love of money. It can become a substitute for God in one’s life. In George Bernard Shaw’s play, Major Barbara, when the rich industrialist was asked what was his religion he answered, “Why, I’m a millionaire. That’s my religion!” but life is far more precious than the money we have, the food we eat or the clothes we wear. Possessions are only on loan to us, and in time we must leave them all behind. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,” (Job 1:21), “and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.”
Why was the parable of the Unjust Steward included in the gospel, we might wonder. Surely it was because of the Church’s concern about the proper use of goods from earliest times. Great personal wealth is rarely acquired without some sharp practice, and so Christ refers to money as somehow tainted. By and large our own society, like that of ancient Israel, is organised not so much for the common good, for the welfare of ordinary people of the working class, but for maximum gain for the wealthy and the priveleged few.
In our attitude to money and property we must keep in mind the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the merciful, blessed are those who strive for justice.” Such people will find true self-fulfilment and the greatest reward of all, of possessing God himself for all eternity, or rather of being possessed by God for all eternity.