Tuesday, September 17, 2013

God and Mammon: The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time




As Jesus continues his “death march” to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9–19), he challenges us this Sunday to choose, in a clear and conscious way, our goal in life: God or money.  The First Reading reminds us that wealth was a seductive trap for the people of God throughout salvation history.

1. The First Reading is Amos 8:4-7:


Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
and destroy the poor of the land!
“When will the new moon be over,” you ask,
“that we may sell our grain,
and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?
We will diminish the ephah,
add to the shekel,
and fix our scales for cheating!
We will buy the lowly for silver,
and the poor for a pair of sandals;
even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Never will I forget a thing they have done!

Amos is often thought to be the earliest of all the literary (writing) prophets, since his relatively short ministry probably fell in the decade 770-760 BC.  Amos 1:1 dates his prophecy to “two years before the earthquake” during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel, an event that archeologists now estimate at c. 760 BC, ±25 yrs.  This would probably place his ministry just prior to Hosea’s longer career (c. 750-725BC).

Amos, like Hosea, prophesied to northern Israel; but unlike Hosea, Amos was not a northerner himself.  He was a Judean from Tekoa, a village to the south of Jerusalem, an agricultural worker who raised sheep and tended an orchard of sycamore-figs (Amos 7:14). He was called by God to preach judgment to northern Israel at a time when that nation was wealthy, arrogant, and oppressive to their southern neighbors.  Amos clearly distances himself from the professional prophets who learned prophesying from their fathers and practiced it as a kind of family trade (see Amos 7:12-14).  He was not motivated by a desire to earn a living, but was impelled by a genuine commission from God (7:15).

This Sunday’s First Reading is a portion of the fourth of a series of five visions (7:1–9:8) of divine judgment that constitute the last major section of the book.  After an oracle of judgment against Amaziah  the unrighteous priest (7:16-17), Amos sees a “basket of summer fruit (Heb. qāyîtz),” which indicates that the “end (Heb. qētz) has come for my people Israel” (8:1-3).  Wailing, mourning, death, and a famine of God’s word will come on Israel, because of the abuse of the poor (8:4-7) and worship of false gods (8:13-14).

A striking feature of this First Reading is the way these ancient Israelite merchants regard religion as an impediment to profit.  “When will the Sabbath be over, that we may display our wheat?”  The Sabbath, which God gave to man as a beautiful day of rest, to be enjoyed with family, friends, and God Himself, is now seen as a burden and restraint to the pursuit of profit. The problem is that these merchants are really not worshipers of the true God.  They are worshipers of the gods of money and power: that is why the abuse of the poor (Amos 8:4-7) is followed by denunciation of the worship of false gods (8:13-14). 

As Catholics we often forget that observance of the Sabbath (in the New Covenant, shifted to the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day) is still part of the Ten Commandments and obligatory for Christians.  Although many of us live in nominally “Christian” cultures, respect for the Lord’s Day has been all but lost, and instead commerce and retail proceed on the Lord’s day of rest and worship as on every other day.  Folks head from Mass to the grocery store, not thinking that this practice supports retailers being open on Sunday, therefore requiring their minimum-wage employees (the poor) to be there and labor on what should be a day of rest and worship for all.  The consequences for Christian culture are tragic, because there remains, then, no one day of rest when persons have the freedom to worship and spend time in quiet with God and family together.  As a Church, we cannot restore a Christian culture without re-establishing a respect—at least among Christians!—for the rest that is appropriate to the Lord’s Day (see CCC §§2184-2188)

Amos is best remembered in the Jewish and Christian tradition as a preacher of justice who was unafraid to publically rebuke the wealthy elite of his day, whose hypocritical and syncretistic religious practices did nothing to alleviate the guilt of their social and economic abuse of the poor.  Amos composed his prophesies in simple yet vivid poetry, as in this much-quoted oracle:

“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings,
I will not accept them,
and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!

Even today Amos’ words remind Christian believers that external observance of the Church’s rituals does not excuse or justify lifestyles of self-indulgence and indifference to the poor and needy. 

2. Our Second Reading is 1 Timothy 2:1-8:

Beloved:
First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity.
This is good and pleasing to God our savior,
who wills everyone to be saved
and to come to knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God.
There is also one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus,
who gave himself as ransom for all.
This was the testimony at the proper time.
For this I was appointed preacher and apostle
— I am speaking the truth, I am not lying —,
teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray,
lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.

The Second Reading at this time of year is working its way through the personal letters of St. Paul.  This passage from St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy stresses the need of the Christian community to pray together, especially for government officials.  Good government is necessary that we may lead a “quiet and tranquil life in all devotion,” which pleases God who “desires all to be saved.”  Why is good government and tranquil life connected with “all being saved?”  Because political stability enables the Church to go about her evangelizing mission unmolested. 

Pope Francis had some direct words about this passage of St. Paul, which came up in the ferial Mass readings earlier this week:

“None of us can say, ‘I have nothing to do with this, they govern. . . .’ No, no, I am responsible for their governance, and I have to do the best so that they govern well, and I have to do my best by participating in politics according to my ability. Politics, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good. I cannot wash my hands, eh? We all have to give something!”

There is a tendency, the Pope observed, to only speak ill of leaders, and to mutter about “things that don’t go well.” “You listen to the television and they’re beating [them] up, beating [them] up; you read the papers and their beating [them] up. . . .” He continued, “Yes, maybe the leader is a sinner, as David was, but I have to work with my opinions, with my words, even with my corrections” because we all have to participate for the common good. It is not true that Catholics should not meddle in politics:

“‘A good Catholic doesn’t meddle in politics.’ That’s not true. That is not a good path. A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern. But what is the best that we can offer to those who govern? Prayer! That’s what Paul says: “Pray for all people, and for the king and for all in authority.” “But Father, that person is wicked, he should go to hell. . . .” Pray for him, pray for her, that they can govern well, that they can love their people, that they can serve their people, that they can be humble.” A Christian who does not pray for those who govern is not a good Christian! “But Father, how will I pray for that person, a person who has problems. . . .” “Pray that that person might convert!”

(From Vatican Radio: http://bit.ly/1gnJgYK)

3. The Gospel is Luke 16:1-13:

Jesus said to his disciples,
“A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.
He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship,
because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,
now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that,
when I am removed from the stewardship,
they may welcome me into their homes.’
He called in his master’s debtors one by one.
To the first he said,
‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.
Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’
Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’
The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note;
write one for eighty.’
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.

The role of steward in a large household was one of great responsibility, but also wealth and prestige.  It went to the master’s most trusted male slave.  As a result, enterprising young freemen in the Roman empire sometimes sold themselves as slaves to wealthy men in order to become stewards of their households. 

Since the stewardship was an administrative position in which one lived in physical comfort, the steward realizes he is in great trouble when the master wishes to fire him.  He’s not suited to any other way of making a living, and as a slave he has no estate of his own.  He’s been use to socializing with his master’s peers, although he is not truly their social or legal equals.

So he pulls of a kind of “white collar crime.”  Calling in his master’s debtors, he has them manipulate their receipts to “erase” a significant portion of their debt.  Then they will be in this steward’s debt after he is fired, and “owe him one.”

Eventually, when the master found out what the steward had done, he “commended” him.  This probably means, he acknowledged (grudgingly) how cunning his former employer had been.

“For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.

Non-religious people frequently have more “street smarts” in manipulating others than those who practice a faith.  That’s why its best for Christians to stay out of the “rat race” rather than try to compete in it.

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

This is perhaps the key teaching of this entire Reading.  The world encourages an attitude in which we use people to gain things.  Jesus reverses this: use things to gain people.  If spending money and giving goods can open others to friendship with the Church and ultimately Christ Himself, then spend the money, give the goods. 

Pagan religion in the ancient world tended to be a semi-magical way to manipulate the spiritual realm (the realm of the “gods”) in order to gain material wealth.

Christianity is precisely the reverse of this.  It is a religion in which we sacrifice material in order to gain spiritual wealth.

That is one reason why the “health and wealth Gospel” is such a perversion.  Periodically one can here a radio or TV evangelist preaching Christ as a means to the “good life”—this is a return to paganism, a subordination of the spiritual to the material.  It does not lead to true conversion, because as long as Jesus is a means to an end—and not the end itself—one is not yet a Christian.

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
is also dishonest in great ones.
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,
who will trust you with true wealth?
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is yours?

“Small matters” are often not small at all, because their consequences can be huge.  This was illustrated some years ago when the $136 million-dollar Mars Climate Orbiter was lost on its maiden voyage due to malfunction.  The problem?  The contractor Lockheed Martin and constructed the device using English measurements, whereas the purchaser NASA conducted their operations only in metric. 

Small issues—an inch vs. a centimeter—can have enormous material consequences and also spiritual ones.  St. Josemaría Escrivà used to say he could tell the state of a man’s soul by looking at his desk or inspecting his closet.  The interior of a man is reflected in his smallest actions.

Jesus teaches us here that material wealth—which in the eternal perspective is a matter of very little consequence at all—serves for us as a “testing ground.”  Our faithful administration of material goods—which would include generosity toward the poor—wins favor with God and gains spiritual blessing, and to the contrary, self-indulgent use of material goods damages spiritual progress.

No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

The Christian who approaches discipleship with Christ while still trying to attain “the American dream” or the “good life” is dooming himself to frustration.  If wealth, pleasure, or power in this life is what you are after, you truly have the wrong religion!  It is truly pathetic, for example, for the Christian who devotes himself to mission work in his youth to become embittered or disgruntled in mid-life when he or she realizes they do not have the material wealth or creature comforts of their peers who went straight into business out of high school or college.  Frustration results when the Christian loses focus on Christ and begins to pine for certain pleasures or pursuits that seem out of reach or incompatible with his life’s vocation.  The only answer for this kind of frustration is re-conversion: to call to mind whom we are serving and why, and recommit to his service.

12 comments:

Luke said...

As always, great insight into this Sunday's upcoming readings Dr. Bergsma. I really look forward to your blog each week.

Dr. Brant Pitre has an insightful interpretation on the parable of the Dishonest Steward and ties it to gaining Indulgences for the dead. Since hearing it I have become that dishonest steward stealing from the treasury of merits and paying off debts for our brothers and sisters in Purgatory. I only wish I had heard it years ago. So much stealing left to do...so little time to do it.

Luke

Anonymous said...

Here is a paraphrase of Dr Pitre's excellent insight:This is found in the ccc 1476 and 1477: We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church’s treasury, which is “not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God.
This is talking about the value of Christ's sufferings. How valuable is Christ's redemptive act? In the eyes of God, these merits are inexhaustibly rich. So that whole value is known as the treasury of the Church. However, the treasury does not only consist of the merits of Christ's redemption but also of the merits of who? The blessed Virgin and the Saints.
1477 “This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints.
So in other words, envision a divine bank. you have a mountain of gold in this bank. It consists of three key categories: First the merits of Christ. How many are they? Infinite. Add to that the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How many are they? Unfathomable. So when you add infinite to unfathomable you are getting an idea of how spiritually wealthy the church is. To this wealth also is added the merits of all the saints throughout the ages. How many are they? In Rev. chpt 7, St.John says about his vision of the saints in heaven, "I saw an innumerable multitude". so if you want to understand the spiritual wealth of t he church just add infinite to unfathomable to innumerable and that will give you an idea of just how much devine wealth the church has access to.

The Rich Man is God. The Steward is the accountant. What is the accountant doing? He's wasting the riches.
Then you've got the Debtors to the master. What is the steward doing? Lowering their debt. What is that? stealing from the master to pay the debtors debts. Is stealing good? No!! Then why does the master commend the steward?
You'd think that the master would take the steward and throw him into prison but instead the master says, "Good job steward! You have been very very clever!"
There are two main points in this parable:
1.The sons of this world are wiser than the sons of light.
2.Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon. What is mammon? Wealth. So what is unrighteous mammon? Stolen wealth!
Jesus is saying to make friends for yourselves by means of stolen wealth! Why?
"So that when your money runs out, they will welcome into eternal habitations" Literally in greek, into eternal tabernacles.
What's the point? How does this connect to indulgences?
This is what Jesus is saying, "You fools! You don't understand that you are sitting on a gold mine. You are like the accountant and God is like your rich master and if you were clever as the thieves of this world you would steal from the Masters infinite wealth and use it to pay off the debts of his debtors so that when you're money runs out (in other words when you come to the end of your life) what will they do to you? Welcome you with joy into their eternal habitations. Welcome you into the eternal tabernacles.
The clue here is that when Jesus starts talking about the sons of light and eternal habitations is he talking about earthly money? No, he is talking about spiritual wealth. When he says make friends by means of unrighteaous mammon what he is saying is you need to take from the treasury of the church and apply it to other peoples debts, namely the souls in purgatory. And how do you think the souls in purgatory will treat you if you did penance for them and allowed them, through your penance, to enter into the glory of heaven? What do you think they will do for you? They will pray you straight up into heaven and greet you with glory and joy when you enter.

Nick said...

Pope Francis is a good pastor :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you everyone. This gospel always confused me. You would think if it this parable was supposed to make sense to peasants 2000 years ago, it would at least make sense to the common folk today. This is in my opinion one of the most confusing parables in the 4 gospels. Maybe I am simply one of the less intelligent peasants of my time. Either way it required explanation to understand whereas all other parables I have read do not.

De Maria said...

You said:

St. Josemaría Escrivà used to say he could tell the state of a man’s soul by looking at his desk or inspecting his closet. The interior of a man is reflected in his smallest actions.

Really? What does that mean, "condition of his soul"? Does that mean that a person with a messy desk is in mortal sin? I sincerely doubt that there is a correlation between the condition of a man's soul and the condition of a man's desk. IF St. Josemaria Escriva said this, it is not a reason for his canonization. Because it is an obvious error akin to superstition. If it were true, all we would have to do is teach everyone to be neat and we would save the world.

In fact, some mass murderers have been meticulously neat.

Serial Killers - HolySmoke.org
www.holysmoke.org/c000/290.htm‎
One of the secret ( until recently ) criteria used to identify possible serial killers is their compulsive, fanatical neatness - like the Tony Randall character in "THE …

What Is A Serial Killer And What Makes Them What They Are
crazyhorsesghost.hubpages.com › Politics and Social Issues‎
Dec 15, 2011 - ….Many Serial Killers are neatness freaks and …

Sincerely,

De Maria

De Maria said...

With all due respect to Dr. Brandt Pitre, I still prefer my Pastor's explanation. He said,

The Rich Man is God.
We are the Dishonest Steward.

Everything that we have belongs to God. Our life, our breath, the clothes on our back, our wealth. Everything.

God gave us these things in order that we would use them for the benefit of His Kingdom. But frequently, we use His gifts for our own benefit and don't share with anyone. We use God's gifts as though they were our own. Not realizing that we are simply stewards of those gifts. We will have to give them back, in the end.

The dishonest Steward in the story, takes from that which is not his and helps another of God's debtors. This is what we are ALL called to do. We are supposed to use our wealth and talents to help the Church and our fellow man. This is God's will. That is why God commends the dishonest Steward for acting intelligently.

He made friends with dishonest wealth and this speaks to the communion of Saints. In the Judgment, we will not be there alone. And if we have made friends in this life, they will be there to speak on our behalf. Therefore, make for yourselves friends with dishonest wealth that they may welcome you into permanent dwellings, in heaven.


That makes a great deal of sense to me.

Sincerely,

De Maria

John Bergsma said...

Thanks for all your comments!

Luke said...

De Maria, I think you are missing St Josemaria Escriva's point about about a man's desk or closet and the state of his soul. The point is not about cleanliness or orderliness of a man's desk. It's more about what a man values.

Let's say I am to die this morning on my way to work. What will my wife and children see on my desk as they gather around it in grief? What framed pictures do I have there? Are there pictures of my boats, cars, my trophies, awards? When they turn on my computer will they find the pornography sites I've been addicted to?

Or will they see pictures of my wife, children, grandchildren? Will they find pictures of my saint heroes or the pope? Is my computer going to reveal that I frequent EWTN or The Sacred Page?

And how about my closet? Do I have tons of clothes that I never wear but feel I need to have to keep up with the latest fashion trends? How much do my shoes cost? How many pairs do I have there? What about those Playboy books tucked away where I hope nobody finds them?

Or have I given away my clothes to the poor?

Bishop Sheen used to say (and I'm paraphrasing), it's been his experience that the more a person is adorned on the outside (gold, jewelry) the less they are adorned on the inside (virtue).

Please God, help me to get my desk and closet in order before I die.

Luke

De Maria said...

That makes more sense Luke.

However, in the case of the BTK killer, the inspection of desk or closet would have to be with a fine tooth comb. Even his wife of 38 years (before their divorce) and his two children, did not know about his dark side.

My point is that trite sayings like that tend to cause more harm than good. People with clean desks get a feeling of superiority. People who can't keep their desk neat will get a feeling of inferiority. And there is no real connection between a desk and a soul.

There are other people who make the same comment about people by the condition of people's shoes.


The fact is that we, on earth, can't judge anyone's soul by their shoes, by their desks, closets or any other indicator. Scripture says very clearly,

1 Corinthians 4: 3 But to me it is a very small thing to be judged by you, or by man's day; but neither do I judge my own self. 4 For I am not conscious to myself of any thing, yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me, is the Lord.

5 Therefore judge not before the time; until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise from God.

And again:
Matt 7:2
For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.

So, let's leave the judgement of people's souls to God. He is the just Judge and the only one who judges righteously.

Luke said...

Amen to that! We should never judge the state of a person's soul after death, never. Leave that to God alone. Forgive me if I've led you to believe that I am determining the state of someone's soul based on their hygiene habits or organizational skills. I am not.

However, God gave us a brain and we are to use it. If I have a son who is shacking up with his girl friend should I not be fearful for his soul? Should I not admonish the sinner? Am I being judgmental?

The scripture verses you cited tell us not to judge others because we do not know what's in their heart. God alone knows our hearts so leave the judging to Him. I get that...I understand.

But those scripture verses don't tell us to suspend all judgement do they? Didn't Christ tell his Apostles to forgive or retain sins? Doesn't that imply making a judgement call? To forgive one's sins doesn't require any judgment. To retain one's sins, however, does require judgement. The Apostles would have to listen to the penitent, assess the facts and make a determination (or judgement) as to whether to forgive or retain the sin.

We are required to make a judgement (based on the observable facts) and to admonish the sinner and pray for their conversion. We are NOT allowed to judge or say that person is in Hell once they die.

I do not think St Josemarie Escriva's saying is trite. In fact it's very profound. What causes me more concern is the idea we should suspend ALL judgement when Our Lord was referring to making a FINAL judgement.

God bless you De Maria. I love your comments. You obviously take your faith seriously.

Until we meet again....

Luke

De Maria said...

Luke said...
Amen to that! We should never judge the state of a person's soul after death, never. Leave that to God alone. Forgive me if I've led you to believe that I am determining the state of someone's soul based on their hygiene habits or organizational skills. I am not.

However, God gave us a brain and we are to use it. If I have a son who is shacking up with his girl friend should I not be fearful for his soul? Should I not admonish the sinner? Am I being judgmental?


Totally different. What I'm advocating is that one should not judge your son a mortal sinner because your son's desk is messy or because he has a picture of his dog rather than his parents on his desk or his shoes are untied.

If you have a son who is shacking up with his girlfriend, it is your God given duty to admonish him against that sinful behavior.

The scripture verses you cited tell us not to judge others because we do not know what's in their heart. God alone knows our hearts so leave the judging to Him. I get that...I understand.

But those scripture verses don't tell us to suspend all judgement do they?


Nor did I insinuate that all judgment should be suspended. Only frivolous judgment based upon appearances rather than facts.

How could one follow Christ if they suspended all judgement? In that case, His goodness could not be determined.

Didn't Christ tell his Apostles to forgive or retain sins? Doesn't that imply making a judgement call? To forgive one's sins doesn't require any judgment. To retain one's sins, however, does require judgement. The Apostles would have to listen to the penitent, assess the facts and make a determination (or judgement) as to whether to forgive or retain the sin.

Assessing the facts is the key phrase there. He didn't say, "look at his clothes or his house and if you think they are shabby then judge him a sinner."

We are required to make a judgement (based on the observable facts) and to admonish the sinner and pray for their conversion. We are NOT allowed to judge or say that person is in Hell once they die.

I do not think St Josemarie Escriva's saying is trite. In fact it's very profound. What causes me more concern is the idea we should suspend ALL judgement when Our Lord was referring to making a FINAL judgement.


I guess we disagree on that point. I have no idea why St. Josemaria or any other priest would judge the condition of anyone's soul by examining that person's desk or closet, rather than basing it upon that person's confession or a discussion with that person. It makes no sense.

God bless you De Maria.

And you as well.

I love your comments.

Thank you.

You obviously take your faith seriously.

I can see that you do as well.

Until we meet again....

Luke


Sincerely,

De Maria

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