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Reflections for the XXV Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the twenty-fifth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that the readings remind us that we are God's stewards and that God expects faithful and prudent stewardship from us.

Am 8:4-7; I Tm 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13

Introduction: Today’s readings challenge us to use our God-given talents and blessings wisely to attain Heavenly bliss.

Homily starter anecdote: Returned overpaymentsCNN reported that In March 1994, the huge defense contractor Martin Marietta returned to the Pentagon some 540 overpayments, totaling $135 million. Of course, that was nothing compared to the $1.4 billion in overpayments various defense contractors returned to the Pentagon in 1993. With a fresh reading of the parable of the unjust steward in today’s Gospel in mind, it is hard to read a report like that without wondering, where the truth is. Defense contractors do not belong to altruistic organizations. So, why did Martin Marietta really return $135 million to the Pentagon? And if $1.4 billion in overpayments was returned in 1993, how much was not returned? The unjust steward in today’s Gospel parable was also not concerned with truth and justice, but with his survival by any means. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Scripture lessons summarized: Condemning the crooked business practices of the 8th century BC Jewish merchants of Judea, today’s lesson from the prophet Amos reminds the Israelites and us to be faithful to our Covenant with Yahweh by practicing justice and mercy as God’s faithful stewards. He warns us also against making the goal of our life the gaining of money, whatever the means. In the second reading, St. Paul instructs the first century Judeo-Christians to become true stewards of the Gospel of Jesus, the only mediator, by preaching the “Good News” to the pagans and by including them in intercessory prayers, too. Today’s Gospel story tells us about the crooked but resourceful manager and challenges us to use our blessings -- time, talents, health and wealth – wisely and justly so that they will serve for our good in eternity. We use our earthly wealth wisely when we spend it for our own needs in moderation and when we love and help the needy around us, for those are the purposes for which He has entrusted all these things to us.

First reading: Amos 8:4-7 explained: Amos was the first of the writing prophets during the 38-year span when Uzziah was king of Judah (781-743 BC). For a long time, the territory we call the Holy Land was divided between a Northern Kingdom called Israel with Samaria as its capital, and a Southern Kingdom known as Judah with Jerusalem as its capital. In the 8th century BC, Israel was prosperous only for the upper classes and the corrupt business community which exploited the poor people. In those days, commercial activities were forbidden on the Sabbath and during days around the New Moon. Not only did these predatory merchants resent the Sabbath rest as a loss of profits, but their business methods were completely unscrupulous. The businessmen wanted those sacred periods to be over so that they might get more time to make profits by their dishonest business practices like charging high prices, using false weights and measures, and selling poor quality merchandise. Hence, Amos prophesied the downfall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel for its lack of Covenant morality. In the Covenant relationship between God and his people, loving compassion and concern for the unfortunate, honesty and integrity were supposed to be distinguishing qualities in the community.  Amos unequivocally declared that God would not tolerate the abuse of the weak.

Second reading: I Timothy 2: 1-8 explained:   Paul struggled to get Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians to respect each other and not to compartmentalize God’s salvation. Hence, in today’s second reading, he reminds Timothy (a community leader equivalent to a bishop), and his congregation that God's concern extends to all people, not just themselves. Some scholars think that some early Jewish Christians might have refused to pray for pagans, and that this passage was intended to correct that mistake. In the passage, Paul insists again that he has been called to take the Gospel to all peoples. He requests prayers for civil rulers and those in high positions, so that all people may live a quiet and peaceable life and come to salvation through the one mediator, Christ Jesus. This teaching is reflected in our modern Prayer of the Faithful, which should embrace the needs of the whole world, not just those of the Church.

Gospel exegesis: A strange parable: The parable of the crooked steward or dishonest manager has shocked good Church people for centuries.  St. Augustine said, “I can’t believe that this story came from the lips of our Lord.” Jesus tells a paradoxical story about the steward (manager), of the estate of a rich absentee landlord. The steward was an out-and-out rascal. But his boss praised him for his rascality because he acted with foresight. Facing the coming return of his master and an audit of his accounts, the steward cleverly converted the debtors of his master into his own debtors.  He bought "friends" with his master’s money and used these "friends” to secure a means of livelihood for the rapidly and certainly approaching point when he would be dismissed (for his previous embezzlement). In Luke’s account there are four morals drawn from the story to unfold its meaning.  The parable advises us to take inventory of the resources placed in our charge: time, talents, opportunities, health, intelligence, education, and other advantages.  It also challenges us to use these resources wisely so that they will serve for our good in eternity. 

Lessons of the parable as presented by Luke:  1. Let the children of light acquire the prudence of the children of this world (verse 8).  The steward in the parable was a dishonest rascal who had been put in charge of his master's estate.  His master was probably a Palestinian landlord residing in a large city.  When caught red-handed for misappropriation of profits, the steward   cleverly falsified the entries in the account books so that the debtors appeared to owe far less than their actual debt.  The steward knew that when his master fired him, he would need friends.  His dishonest plan would serve two purposes.  First, the debtors would be grateful to him and would support him financially. Second, he would be in a position to exercise a little judicious blackmail to silence them.

The children of this world’ are the children of darkness who see and value only the things of this world.  They live for this world, concentrate their attention on it, invest everything in it, give the energies of mind and body fully to it, and find in it their entire purpose for living.  Christian believers, however, are ‘the children of light’ who see real, eternal, spiritual values as primary and regard temporal values as secondary. The children of this world regard themselves as owners, while true Christians regard themselves as mere stewards of God who view their   resources as merely loaned to them by God.  To the Christian, "riches" mean spiritual and human values.  Our stewardship requires us to use our advantages to help others.

Obviously, Jesus was not commending the steward’s dishonesty. He was commending only his shrewd resourcefulness. The parable points out that Christians should be as prudent and resourceful in acquiring goodness as the steward was in acquiring money and making his future safe. Christians must give as much attention to things that concern their souls as they do to the things that concern worldly matters. In saving our souls and spreading the Good News, our Lord wants us to apply the same ingenuity and effort that other people put into their worldly affairs or into their attempts to attain some human ideal. In other words, our Christianity will begin to be real and effective when we spend as much time and effort on spiritual matters as we do on worldly activities, and when the Church uses the worldly business sense of a good steward in conducting its ministries.

2. Invest temporal goods to acquire eternal welfare.   Jesus reminds us that earthly resources will eventually run out.  Hence, our material possessions should be used for the good of others, to cement friendships wherein lie the real and permanent values of life.   This can be done in two ways.        (a) In regard to eternity.  It was a Jewish belief that charity given to the poor would stand to a man's credit in the world to come.  A man's true wealth consisted, not in what he owned, but in what he gave away. The right use of wealth, according to Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, is to help the poor, the hungry, and the starving. That is the way that we make friends with God and please God according to this text.  There are many people in our parish who live a life of generosity. There are many people in the Catholic Church who understand that God has given us money so that we can be generous to the needy, the poor and the starving. Thus, many of us are making wise investments for the future. (b) In regard to this world.  A man can use his wealth not only to make life easier for himself, but also for his fellowman.  Perhaps he will fund scholarships for students or give to charitable organizations and missionary endeavors.  There are a million possibilities.  

3. Integrity and fidelity are the true yardsticks for promotion and eternal reward (verse 10).  A man's way of fulfilling a small task is the best proof of his fitness or unfitness to be entrusted with a larger task. No man will be advanced to a higher office until he has given proof of his honesty and ability in a lower position.  Jesus extends this principle to eternity. He calls us to faithfulness in little things because most of our life is made up of seemingly small opportunities to do good. Few of us can hope to "save the world."  Still, we can conduct our business in honesty, tutor a child, visit a person in a nursing home, or help a neighbor in distress and make a difference in his or her life. Then our Lord will welcome us with the words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.” (Mt. 25:21).

How we handle our money and our possessions is a test of our character.  It reveals whether or not we are morally qualified to receive the true riches of Heaven.  How we treat what belongs to another is a test of our fitness to be entrusted with our own possessions.  How do we treat others:  their name, their possessions, their time, their ministry, their feelings, their family?  The answer will reveal our fitness for true stewardship.  This is why Jesus asked the question, “If you have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?" (verse 12).  While we live on earth, we are in charge of things which are not really ours.  We cannot take them with us when we die.  They are only lent to us--we are only stewards over them.  On the other hand, in Heaven we will receive what is really and eternally ours.  Our Heavenly destiny depends on how we use the things of earth.

4. "No servant can serve two masters" (verse 13).  In the Greco-Roman world, the master had exclusive possession of his slave.   A slave had no spare time of his own, since every ounce of his energy belonged to his master.  In this saying, Jesus reminds us that, like slaves, we cannot serve God on a part-time basis.  Once a man chooses to serve God, every moment of his time and every atom of his energy belong to God.  God is the most exclusive of masters.  We belong to Him either totally or not at all. As Christians, we are called to serve God first.  We must not use money and possessions exclusively to serve our own purposes. Let us remember the proverb, “Money can buy everything but true happiness, and it can purchase a ticket to every place except to Heaven.” This parable of serving two masters may seem ironic.  Perhaps, Jesus was attacking the Sadducees and Pharisees.  The Sadducees cheated a bit on the Mosaic Law so that they might accommodate themselves to the Roman government.   The Pharisees made a big show of giving small amounts of money to the poor.   The lesson is that we cannot be nominal Christians, calling ourselves “Christians” and committing little wrongs while expecting God's praise.

Life messages: 1) We need to be faithful in little things of life:  Often we get so caught up in our work that we ignore the little things of life. But let us not ignore these little matters -- things like dropping someone an encouraging note or extending people a simple, "Thank you."  Similarly, we ought to take time out of our workday to help others in small things.  As Saint John Chrysostom said, "Faithfulness in little things is a big thing."  We may not be able to reach millions of people all over the world by satellite as famous talk show hosts or televangelists do. But in our own part of the world we can faithfully do, little things to point people toward Jesus.  Our future opportunities in the eternal service of God largely depend on our stewardship in handling the little opportunities we have had on earth. As St. Teresa of Calcutta (Blessed Mother Teresa, canonized September 4, 2016 by Pope Francis), used to recommend, “Do little things with great love.”

2) We need to act wisely, trusting in the power and assistance of God.  Today’s parable gives us some practical advice.    We are urged to stride into the future with confidence -- not in ourselves or our abilities, but in the power and grace of God. The manager in Jesus’ story used all his resources to secure his future. We must be no less resourceful. At our disposal we have Hope in God’s justice, Faith in God’s assistance, and trust in God’s grace. We have the Holy Mass and the Seven Sacraments as sources of Divine grace, the Holy Bible as the word of God for daily meditation and practice, and the Spirit-guided Church to direct us. These are the best possible resources; we need to use them in such a way that it will be said of us, "And the master commended them because they acted so wisely."

3) We need to be prepared to give an account of our life. We are all stewards of what God has entrusted to us, so some day we will have to give Him an account of our stewardship.  We prepare ourselves for all kinds of things, most of which never happen.  But do we care enough for our souls to insure ourselves against the one thing that most certainly will happen? We must meet God and give an accounting. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (II Corinthians 5:10).  Thus, the only thing that will count in our favor is the testimony of those who will say, "Lord, when I was really in need, he gave to me, at cost to himself. He helped me along. He showed love to me and proved it by giving himself to me." (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

19 September 2019, 12:51