25th Sunday in O.T.; September 18, 2016
Am 8:4-7 Ps 113 1 Tm 2:1-8 Lk 16:1-13
Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.
The Gospel story is about a shrewd, albeit dishonest steward, who’s prepared to do anything at keeping himself alive, short of doing manual labor and begging. The manager’s panic of his inability to do manual labor or to beg puts his mind into high gear to come up with a different plan. It reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon which showed two men in a dungeon without windows or doors. They are manacled to the wall by their wrists, ankles, and neck. Both have long beards; they have obviously been there awhile. One is leaning over to the other and whispers, “Now here’s my plan.”
Today is a good occasion to ask ourselves: what is our plan? Do we wake up and say “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad” or are we jarred awake by our alarm and immediately plan our must-do-today list?
As one person said, “The more I thought about it, the more I became determined not to live an unlived life.” What is a lived life? What does it mean to be fully alive? The answer to that hinges on what it means to be a human person. We Christians see our lives foremost as reflecting God, who is Love, who is generous and self-gifting. We are most human, when we share our lives with others from the smallest acts of random kindness to major commitments of our time and resources.
We are most human when we are grounded in God, are in fellowship with other human beings, and are in harmony with creation. Life is being; life is relational.
The difficulty is that we live in a culture that constantly bombards us with a different message that says we can make ourselves happy by acquiring the goods of the world. Do you remember that bumper sticker: He who dies with the most toys wins? The egocentric self has a bottomless appetite for wealth, prestige, and pleasures, and thrives on the adventures of being the captain of its ship. Life is simply reduced to having. Money and wealth is the new god. Consumerism has become the new religion and advertising is its liturgy. When the pursuit of wealth becomes our driving ambition, we tolerate, condone, and even perpetuate the injustices described by the prophet Amos in our first reading. Rather than put persons in the center of our economic system, we put wealth, which reduces human beings to factors of production and exposes them to extremes of poverty in which they are forced to sell themselves into slavery in order to survive. These are the very people who are victimized by an unjust economic order.
Most of us are not called to become like St. Francis, embracing poverty to the extreme, but we can use the goods of the world according to God’s purposes. Brothers and sisters, it’s not so much what we have, but how we use it. The only legitimate use of the goods of the world, including wealth, is to use them the way that God intended; that is, for our good and the good of others. We know that ultimately God is our only security, the true rock that can withstand any storm that life throws at us. As the Psalmist reminds us, mammon—riches or money– is a false god because it can’t deliver what it promises. Only God can love us now and forever. Money can’t love us, period and we are made to be eternally in love.
What is our plan? We have an either/or choice before us. The Gospel reading concluded that “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 God and mammon” (Lk 16:13).
If we give our whole heart and soul to God, if we serve God alone that means we put riches or money in that service. If we learn how to do that—to share ourselves and our resources with others for God’s praise and glory—then money is freed from its role as a surrogate god and becomes just money, one of the many things that can be used to promote the Father’s will. The choice is straightforward. We need to ask ourselves: what is our plan?
Oh, by the way, here is the second part to that bumper sticker: He who dies with the most toys, dies anyway.