25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Did you see the Pope’s big interview? It begins with a Jesuit priest asking him, “Who is Jorge Bregoglio?” He is taken aback at first. You would think that this Pope would not be surprised that a Jesuit did not ask him a straight forward question! He thinks and then he says the most defining thing he could say is that he is a sinner. What a fascinating approach to one of the holiest men in the world. He knows he cannot understand God’s mercy unless he is aware of his need for it.
In the Gospel, there is a great deal of sinning. First, the steward squanders his master’s money, then he cuts deals with his master’s debtors so they will owe less and then take him in once he is fired for he knows, “I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.” (What I like to call “The Priest’s Lament”) The master surprisingly applauds the steward for his cleverness.
Why? Well, it is something how a crisis focuses our attention. The slovenly steward suddenly becomes very efficient. Jesus would like it if we all concentrated on our salvation as much as we do in the midst of financial peril. But he also sees what happens when we are caught up in the stuff of the world and not aware of the presence of God.
He introduces an interesting term – mammon. Often translated as love of money or wealth, it also has the sense of that which pulls your interest in an inordinate way. We all have a little mammon in our lives. My mammon is the New York Mets. I think it is good to root for a team and to care for the team. But the Mets are 21 games out of first with 8 to play. I think we are in trouble. Yet, I will watch every pitch of a game. That is mammon.
And if the mammon grows significantly enough, it can truly block our vision of God. What is the mammon in your life? I think the real mammon grows deeply within us. For example, this is not an atypical confession. “I was inpatient, I was angry and I took the Lord’s name in vain.” Really, you can do that just in two minutes in your car. I try to see what is behind all that. What is really the thing behind the things that move our sinful actions? That is mammon.
What is the Mammon in your life? For some, it is the sense that they are never good enough. That there is a click missing there that will always prevent them from feeling whole and worthy. For some, it is pride, the inability to admit weakness, for surely those who know any vulnerability will only exploit it. For many, it is fear that constricts our lives and we guide our days only by the thought of self-preservation and are moved only by our worries.
I spent some time thinking what my personal Mammon is? Do you know the saying, “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you?” It is pretty dumb ,but I fall into the trap. I trust in my prayer wholly, but I feel the burden of the work and the responsibility to care for the parish that I can easily forget who the real author of the work is. If I worked as if everything depended on God, I don’t think I would work one less hour a week. But I would do all my work with hope, confidence and peace.
I think that is why the Pope thinks of himself first as a sinner. He wants to know he is saved and what he is being saved from. He wants to taste the mercy of God by knowing himself to be in such need of mercy. He wants to know he is healed by the love of God. Jesus says we must choose God or Mammon. It is like when Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.” We don’t consciously want to not choose God, but Mammon has a way of sneaking up on us and blocking our vision of God. But as soon as we know it is a choice, there is no choice at all.
Would you want to think of yourself as missing that click, as being fatally flawed, incapable of achieving your best, or would you want to know yourself as blessed by God with unique and indispensable talents and gifts needed by the world? Choose life, choose blessing and choose God. Would you rather be a prisoner of your pride admitting to know weakness, or allow others in so that community and humanity can develop and we can find a space in each other’s lives? Choose life, choose blessing and choose God. Would you rather be governed by the rule of exhausting fear or the promise of constant love? Choose life, choose blessing and choose God.
As Bob Dylan once sang, you have to serve somebody. Serve God, not Mammon.