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).
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
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)