Tuesday, September 13, 2016

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

At the heart of the Mosaic Law is this idea that we, the people of God, need to protect those who are in need:  The poor.  Widows.  Orphans.  Foreigners.  Those individuals who traditionally have no rights under the Law because they have no property.  God not only taught that we needed to love our neighbor, but that we need to go out of our way to make sure even those who have the least are loved and protected.

Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13 (or 16:10-13)

We open with a reading from the prophet Amos… and if there ever were an example of fiery prophetic rage and divine justice, it’s Amos.  A Southern prophet during the height of the Jewish kingdoms (some 150 years before the Exile), Amos is a shepherd by trade but was called, somewhat reluctantly by God, to the life of a prophet to rail against the injustice and hypocrisy he saw all around him.  Our passage this week is thick with meaning, and if not read or proclaimed correctly, can cause us to misunderstand its meaning.  This is a classic rant he’s giving to the rich (“…you who trample upon the needy…”), warning them of their day of reckoning.  But this warning is only the frame of a complex passage.  In between his condemnations, at the heart of the passage, Amos isn’t prophesying, he’s quoting the minds of the rich men bent on oppressing the poor.  When we recognize this pattern it’s easier to understand the passage.  This is not contemplative reading, but rather a fiery sermon that needs to be read aloud.  Our Psalm serves as a battle cry to our reading from Amos when we sing, “Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.”

Our second reading, continues our study of the Pauline letters to Timothy.  Though our passage wasn’t necessarily chosen to fit with our other readings, it’s not entirely out of place.  Here we are taught that we must pray for our leaders and everyone else, not just those in the community of believers.  It is easy for us to be sensitive to the needs of our own Christian communities, but if we’re not considerate of those in civil authority, or our neighbors who are not believers, it’s easy for us to fall into an “us” and “them” mentality.  Our passage reminds us that justice is for all, and we pray our secular leadership sees this need.

Our Gospel this week is another story unique to Luke, but like our first reading, can be difficult to follow if we don’t unpack it.  In the Parable of the Unjust Stewart, it would seem on the surface that Jesus is praising the steward for his guile in managing his final affairs, but like Amos, Jesus is actually condemning him.  Take a moment to read it through slowly.  Though the master in the story appears to admire the steward’s misdirected abilities, Jesus condemns him nonetheless.  And with that condemnation comes a warning… that we cannot serve both God and mammon (wealth).

But we need to be careful here if we are to understand the parable’s true meaning.  Understanding “mammon” as “wealth” or “money” could lead us to believe that money itself is bad, and that the wealthy are inherently evil.  That would be a misinterpretation.  We Catholics don’t believe that money itself is bad.  It’s a necessary tool that allows our economies to operate, and we as Church must deal with it and use it if we are to survive as an institution.  Similarly, we Catholics don’t necessarily see wealth as inherently bad, nor see the wealthy as inherently evil.  Instead the focus needs to be on the action, not the substance.  Follow:  If a person should become wealthy by cheating people out of their money, that would be bad.  If, on the other hand, a person becomes wealthy by providing a good or service that is genuinely desired for a fair price, how can we consider that bad?  It’s not the wealth itself that is bad, it’s how that wealth is gained and how it is used.

Most importantly, however, is the focus of our endeavor… that is the final lesson of the parable.  Is our focus on serving God or on the pursuit of wealth?  One is selfless, the other selfish.  Living one’s life in the service of the Lord is by its nature, selfless.  Looking to the needs of others before your own.  Living one’s life in the pursuit of wealth, however, is by its nature, selfish.  Looking to the needs of your own pursuits instead of looking out for the needs of others, because invariably, the needs of others fall secondary to the continued pursuit of wealth and profits.

Final thoughts:
When we Catholics talk about Social Justice, we have a tendency to think of it as someone else’s job.  “That needs to go to the parish social justice committee.”  “That’s the job of Catholic Relief Services or Catholic Charities.”  We have a habit of “pigeonholing” the various aspects of our Christian lives based on the directories listed in our church bulletins.  Social Justice?  “We have a committee for that.”  But what we fail to realize is that social justice is at the core of our faith. 

Jesus taught that we must love God and love our neighbor.  I think we do a pretty good job of “loving God,” especially through our prayer and our Liturgy.  But loving our neighbor?  That’s harder.  That’s dirtier.  Especially if they don’t look like us or talk like us.  But if we claim the title of “Christian,” we need to find a way to incorporate our understanding of social justice into our daily lives.  Do we treat everyone with dignity and respect?  Are we courteous to those who serve us?  And how do we treat those whom we feel may have wronged us, no matter how slight?  These are the daily challenges we face.  This isn’t the job of the social justice committee or some other organization.  It’s our job, and it all begins with how we treat others, everyday.

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