Sep. 21, 2019

TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2019

TRUSTWORTHY FOR GOD’S KINGDOM

Readings: 1st- Amos 8:4-7; 2nd- 1 Tim. 2:1-8; Gospel- Lk. 16:1-13

Amos begins the theme of trustworthiness in the first reading. Known as the prophet of justice, Amos lashes out against the unjust treatment of the poor by the wealthy and the powerful. Amos expresses his outrage at the various intervals in his writing: “They trample the heads of the weak into the dust of the earth and force the lowly out of the way” (2:7). He addresses the rich and powerful this way, “let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:24). He reminds such people about the consequences of their actions referring to what God thinks of them, “I hate, I spurn your feasts. I take no pleasure in your solemnities” (5:21). In the first reading, Amos explains why the Lord is angry at those in positions of authority. They offer sacrifices at the new moon during which they display their hypocrisy. The new moon is for them a ritual display after which they resume their evil deeds. Hence, they ask, “When will the new moon be over, that we will sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we will display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating!” Amos warns them, “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!” (Amos 8:7).

We see a similar theme running in the gospel, the parable of the astute/unrighteous steward which follows directly the parable of the prodigal son that we read last Sunday. The steward squanders his master’s property and faces dismissal by the master. He is asked to prepare his account before leaving. The steward recognizes that some of his master’s servants owe his master great amounts. He cancels some of their debts, uses the opportunity to attract their favor. Like the father of the prodigal son, the master pardons him being clever and prudent in his dealing with wealth. Jesus tells us, “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” Jesus invites his followers to be much clever as children of light. Then he uses the occasion to teach us about justice and trustworthiness in not only dealing with others but in dealing with the things of heaven.

If we look at that gospel reading closely, we will notice the themes that could be explored more deeply. The themes include wastefulness: the servant squanders his master’s property. Discipline: the master summons him and plans to sack him. Vulnerability/weakness: the servant recognizes how weak he is and expresses shame and repentance. Shrewdness: The astute servant acts shrewdly by canceling debts of the debtors. Let us put this parable in its proper perspective.

Jesus does not commend the activities of the astute steward for acting mischievously. He is not okay with his negative action. Rather, he uses his astuteness to expand on the demands of investing rightly in the kingdom of heaven. In the first place, both the master in this parable and the steward seem to be doing something creepy. The master seems to be taking advantage of his customers in his business, then the steward takes advantage of his master in return. Jesus, therefore, reminds his followers to recognize this fact and possibly to show generosity in a different way towards the kingdom of heaven. Remember that he already warned his followers to store up treasures in the kingdom of heaven where neither moth nor termite would squander them. While we earn wealth in this world, we need to use our wealth for the good of others. We should recognize that wealth could disappoint. It is a “dishonest possession,” that means, we should not rely on it or allow it to define our being. Wealth is not an end in itself. Wealth should not rule us and should not be worshipped, as Saint Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10).

What principle is Christ teaching us? He wants us to learn from the astute servant’s wisdom in dealing with the things of heaven- “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters will also be dishonest in great ones” (Lk. 16:10-13). Trust is vital in human relationships. Trust means that one shows her/himself to be reliable, worthy to be entrusted with responsibilities. Trust and honesty go together. We all want someone to trust. We want to trust the Church. We want to trust our priests to share intimate matters of faith with them. We want to trust our spouse to be able to feel safe with him/her. We want to trust our friends to be able to confide in them. Professionally, we want to trust our doctors to be able to talk with them about our health issues. We want to trust our therapists and counselors to be able to share intimate life stories with them. We want to trust teachers to be able to leave our kids in their care. We want to trust politicians to be able to elect them for the governance of our country. We want to trust caregivers to be able to put our parents and elderly ones into their care. We want to trust our banks to be able to save our money with them. If you stop trusting someone, you stop sharing with the person. Trust and safety go hand in hand which makes trust an intrinsic part of the survival mechanism in every human being.

Question: Can God trust us? Can God believe in us not to betray him because of material wealth? Jesus invites us to recognize how much God wants us to show that we can be trusted by the story of the astute servant. We must treat others with justice, respect, and equity. We must not oppress the poor. We must not be dishonest with our fellow human beings. We must not be like the wealthy and powerful of Prophet Amos’ community. We must make the weak feel safe and have cared for. Those are the little ways we show we are trustworthy. Once we show such trust, then our relationship with God will be fruitful. The very big matter is gaining eternal life. Dishonesty in little things can make us lose eternal life which is huge. Saint Paul invites us to pray for everyone and for those in authority, that all may be devoted to God who wills “everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The astute servant came to the knowledge of the master’s truth and made amends. We must be wise and realize the truth of God the Father. We must be trusted to make heaven.