Tag Archives: steward

Scripture Commentary for 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading:  Isaiah 49:14-15

One can only imagine Israel’s hopelessness.  There is nothing harder to bear than to have the one you counted on the most desert you in the midst of despair.  Because of what Israel perceived to be God’s non-action in their Babylonian captivity, they felt they had been completely abandoned by their God.  But today’s word of the Lord has spoken.  Human beings are a part of God – the womb of God – never to be forsaken or abandoned.  God always forgives, invites, and tenderly caresses those who are God’s children, God’s own (Birmingham, W&W, p. 403).

Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”  This is not the life God wants for us!  God’s loving grace is a free gift for us…poured out in abundant supply.  God wants us to know we belong to God, never to be forgotten.  Have you ever felt forsaken?  Can you think of others out there who do?  Bring this to the Lord.

2nd Reading;  I Corinthians 4:1-5

You can almost hear in this reading how Paul is trying to defend himself and who he stands for (who, of course, is Jesus Christ).  He is humbling himself.  He explains that we are meant to be servants and stewards of God, despite not even completely understanding God’s mysteries.  He was not concerned about how he might be judged  because he felt his conscience was clear.  His actions were between him and God.

St Augustine of Hippo said in explaining his role as bishop, “For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian.  The first is an office accepted; the second is a gift received.  One is danger; the other is safety.  If I am happier to be redeemed with you than to be placed over you, then I shall, as the Lord commanded, be more fully your servant.”  We have to learn how to sink the roots of servanthood deep into the soil of our character (habits) so that our commitment holds up in the face of life’s inevitable challenges (Phelps, Leading Like Jesus, p. 71)

St. John Neumann reminded us that our conscience is the highest moral indicator.  We are to follow our conscience above all else.  Human beings have the right to act in freedom according to their conscience. They may not be forced to act contrary to their conscience, especially when it comes to religious issues (CCC, #1782).  Faith, prayer, and the word of God enlighten our conscience. “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a [person]. There s/he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his/her depths. By conscience, in a wonderful way, that law is made known which is fulfilled in the love of God and one’s neighbor.” (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes] ,16).

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 6:  24-34

“No one can serve two masters.”   Soren Kierkegaard reflected on this idea.  He said, “If it is possible that a man can will only one thing then he must will the good,” (A Kierkegaard Anthology, p. 271).  This is a singularity of thought.  This is living authentically.  It is not living with two masters.  It is behaving as true to ourselves as we are able.  Yet even when we fail, we can turn back again.  Kierkegaard continues in hope, “For as the Good is only a single thing, so all ways lead to the Good, even the false ones – when the repentant one follows the same way back…let your heart in truth will only one thing, for therein is the heart’s purity,” (p. 272).   Even when we choose wrong, we can follow our way back to the good.

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.  More than than, it is cooperation in violence.”  Thomas Merton

Jesus is not insensitive to the needs of the peasants.  Like all human beings, they were anxious about the basics of life.  Given the subsistence economy in which they lived, the unpredictability of nature, and the voracious taxes they were forced to pay, how could they think of anything but survival?  Jesus’ advice is simple yet cleverly delivered.  Without pointing his finger or naming names, he selects a masculine Aramaic noun (birds, associating men’s work like sowing, reaping, harvesting) and a feminine Aramaic noun (anemones, or lilies of the field, associating women’s work like spinning yarn, making clothes) and urges men and women not to worry.  One must trust in God the heavenly patron who knows our basic needs and will meet them (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 41-42).

Ignatian Spirituality encourages a life of detachment to help us worry less.  Whose kingdom am I serving, my own or God’s  It takes a lot of courage to recognize the truth that we ourselves are not the fixed center of things but rather that we are beings through whom life flows.  But when we do understand and acknowledge this, we discover that our emptiness will lead us more surely to our true purpose than our imagined fullness ever could, because God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands  (Silf, Inner Compass, p. 110).

What is Your Mammon? Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…

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.

Commentary for Upcoming Sunday Readings: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

stewardship

1st Reading – Amos 8: 4-7

Amos was a native of the village of Tekoa located 6 miles south of Bethlehem on the edge of the Judean wilderness. He made his living as a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees. What is translated as sycamore is probably a type of mulberry that produced a type of fig-like fruit. They had to be punctured or pinched at exactly the right moment in its growth cycle so as to release the insects that infested it. Insect-free fruit would then grow to ripeness so that the poor, for whom the fruit provided some meager sustenance, could gather it up and be fed. Although Amos thought he was not suitable to be the prophet God called him to be, perhaps his job with these trees had actually prepared him well to pinch and puncture the greed and dishonesty that infested the hearts of some of the rich at that time. The greedy rich did not even like the Sabbath rest for it kept them from their unscrupulous business practices. These heartless and disreputable merchants actually sold the poor into lives of slavery because of their greed. Amos understood the lives of the poor; he spoke out vehemently with condemnation toward those whose greed continued to force the poor into more and more difficulties. We need to allow Amos’ words to pinch and puncture us so we too are open to God’s ways of love and truth, not selfish greed. God still hears the cry of the poor; he is not fooled by superficial piety. (Celebration, Sept. 2001 and Exploring the Sunday Readings, Sept. 1998)  What do you think of this reading?

2nd Reading — 1 Timothy2: 1-8

As we said last week, most scholarship theorizes that this letter wasn’t actually written by Paul but a disciple of his.  Some in the community were succumbing to Gnosticism, and so the letter is countering that.  Gnosis is Greek for knowledge.  Gnostics thought they possessed special, mystical knowledge that they received because they were an elite group.  They believed all matter is evil, so our bodies are evil and our spirits must escape them.  In order to be liberated from our bodies, a spiritual messenger must come and awaken us from our sleep.  This messenger brings gnosis.  For Christian Gnostics, that messenger was Jesus.  But because they believed bodies were evil, they rejected the idea that Christ had a body like ours  (appeared to be human but not).  So there were theories about Jesus’ birth, incarnation and resurrection that threatened Christian doctrine  (Gonzalez, JL, The Story of Christianity Vol I, pgs 58-61).  In this letter to Timothy, “Paul” writes how EVERYONE is to be saved, there is ONE mediator and he is a ransom for ALL.  What do you make of this in our world today?

The Gospel – Luke 16: 1-13

This whole section is tied together by the theme of wealth and the danger it poses for disciples. Luke is always very concerned about this problem.  Don’t you wonder why Jesus advises that we should make friends with dishonest wealth?

Jesus’ audience (and Luke’s audience) would have expected the steward to be jailed immediately.  When this didn’t happen in the parable, their imagination was captured.  The underdog seems to be getting the better of the person in power!  In actuality, the master is a man of mercy.  The steward knew that, since he wasn’t jailed, and decided to capitalize on that.  When he lowered the renters’ ransom notes (connect this ransom with the one in the previous reading!), the renters believed it was with the master’s approval and so he is a hero.  It would look bad if the master changed this.  The steward hoped that even if the master did not reinstate him, he would be welcomed and employed by others in the community.  The steward relies heavily on the fact that the master is generous and merciful.  God is the master, and we are God’s stewards.  We are completely dependent on God for life itself.  Only God can save  (Birmingham, M, Word and Worship, p. 481).

As disciples, we need prudent decisiveness. We must take our identity so seriously that it defines how we live. We are not going to live in this world forever. We or our profits are not the source and security of our lives; God is. We had better take his priorities seriously. We need to realize that all our choices in daily living are actually choices for eternal life. And, our Christian way of living – our Paschal Mystery living – isn’t simply a matter of surrendering to the self-sacrificing possibilities that come our way in the normal course of living. We must be clever and smart about searching out such opportunities to live Jesus’ proactive way of love. This passage in Luke’s gospel is really challenging us with the question: How smart  are you? We need to know who and what we are. We need to face our gifts and shortcomings honestly. It does not do ourselves or anyone else any good to live in fantasy. We need to face our abilities and the real situation with clarity. Such realism is an asset in many a crises. It enables us to come up with real solutions to the problems. It is only practical, real-life wisdom that brings true insight.  (Pheme Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, 165-171, & Living Liturgy, Cycle C, 2004)