25th Sunday Ordinary Time, Sept. 18, 2016
Last week from the gospel of Luke we heard three popular and joyful parables: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. Jesus set about the challenge the Scribes and Pharisees, many of whom were not pleased by them. For whatever reasons, they were not inclined to want to welcome back a lost sinner. Instead they were more inclined to fine joy in the sinner’s destruction, presuming themselves to be favored by God and without sin.
It might be a safe thing to say that any one of us who presumes himself to be without sin is really the lost one. C.S. Lewis wrote that a good person knows how bad they really are, and a truly bad person is blind to their own sin. A saint may struggle over a small sin because they know that it puts distance between themselves and God, while a truly bad person may not even think of God at all.
That’s the situation in our first reading from the prophet Amos. Amos prophesied during the 7th century B.C. at a time of relative peace in Israel. And it happens often in times of peace and prosperity that people become desensitized to the needs of others.
This is what Amos witnessed in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and he challenged the people over it.nHe challenged them about ignoring the widows and orphans and forgetting the poor. This didn’t make him popular of course. No one wants to hear that they are wrong in their actions or be challenged on moral grounds.
But Amos’ prophecies are for us too. How are we doing with our treatment of the poor, the homeless, the struggling? How often do we think of the poor and actually reach out to help?
The gospel today is an unsettling one. In it a dishonest steward is praised by his master. The master praises the dishonest steward for his shrewdness. He praises his shrewdness, Not his evil deeds. After all, the master had been stolen from, but yet he recognized the steward’s ingenuity.
The lesson isn’t meant to encourage us to embezzle money like he did, or to cook the books. Of course not, and yet the master praises him.
Here are what I think are four lessons we can learn from this parable:
First, as Christians, we can learn a lot from the dishonest steward. In fact, if we put as much energy and eagerness into our attempt to attain goodness as the dishonest steward did in his attempt to gain wealth and cover up his misdeeds, then we would all be much better off than we currently are. They say that about lies too, don’t they? It takes more energy and effort to cover up and maintain a lie than it does to tell the truth. If we converted that energy into the pursuit of faith and goodness, then what a different world this would be.
The dishonest steward used his master’s money to win friends for himself. A second lesson here is that whatever we have–money or possessions–we should always put them to use in a way that leads to things with permanent value. Like friendship, or especially things of eternal value–like heaven.
For the third lesson, I quote William Barclay, a famed Protestant scripture scholar and preacher.
“A man’s way of fulfilling a small task is the best proof of his fitness or unfitness to be entrusted with a bigger task. That is clearly true of earthly things. No man will be advanced to a higher office until he has given proof of his honesty and ability in a smaller position. But Jesus extends this principle to eternity. Jesus says, ‘Upon earth you are in charge of things which are not really yours. You cannot take them with you when you die. They are only lent to you. You are only a steward over them. They cannot be permanently yours. On the other hand, in heaven you will get what is really and permanently yours. And what you get in heaven depends on how you use the things of earth.'”
Quite the challenge when it comes to meeting the needs of the poor, the homeless, the disenfranchised, the refugee, the victim of violence! Quite the obligation we have as Christians!
And finally, the fourth lesson. No slave can serve two masters. If we’re going to belong to God, then we have to belong to him fully, totally and completely. Not just on Sunday mornings or at times when it’s convenient. Not only at times of emergency or tragedy when we need God most, but also at inconvenient times. At times when we are tempted most by sin and selfishness. At times when we are most caught up in this world and getting ahead. We have to be shrewd, yes, like the dishonest steward, but shrewd in fully belonging to God even as we live in this world.
Amos reminds us of our obligations to the poor and needy. That is a non-negotiable of our Christian Faith. Jesus reminds the Pharisees, and all of us, that faith is best shown in our actions. In telling the Scribes and Pharisees this parable, Jesus indicts them and challenges them to reach out to the sinners and glory in their salvation rather than in their destruction.
And in the same way he reaches out to us here in he 21st century to store up treasure in heaven where it matters most.
Our souls in Heaven! That’s the only thing with eternal value.