Many of you may recall Fr. Bill Taylor, now retired, who served at St. Augustine’s here in town around 2005-2008. Fr. Bill grew up in a large family; money was extremely tight, so Fr. Bill knew what it
means to be poor. He shared this experience with me. Early in his priestly life, Fr. Bill was sent to a mountain village in South America where he learned Spanish. The villagers there had few of today’s
modern conveniences. No electricity, dirt floors in their modest homes, a community well for drinking water, and none of what we consider today to be essential electronic devices. One evening Fr. Bill
and a villager sat outside the man’s house resting their backs against the mud wall. The owner looked to the star-studded sky and quietly spoke: Isn’t God so wonderfully generous that He gives us such beautiful stars to light up the night? From feeling sorry for the impoverished living conditions he saw, Fr. Bill saw as if for the first time just how blessed we are by a God who loves us so dearly.
Today’s Scripture readings speak to us of priorities…of what really matters in this life and how we are to be there for one another. In the time of the prophet Amos, Israel is enjoying great prosperity. Yet,
despite their wealth, those in power want more. They rob the poor and vulnerable, violating God’s commands to shelter orphan, care for those widowed, and be hospitable toward strangers and aliens. Amos warns them that those who abuse the poor for gain will answer to the Lord for all the injustices they commit. Yet they persist in their greedy ways…leading to their doom!
Jesus tells a parable about a dishonest steward who has stolen from his master. About to be turned out into the cold, without the skills to survive, the devious steward instructs his master’s debtors to reduce significantly the amounts they owe, ingratiating himself to those debtors. His plan is to obligate them to himself so that when he is let go, those debtors will feel honor-bound to care for him. Strangely, Jesus appears to compliment the steward for his actions. But, as Paul Harvey used to say, there’s more to the story.
In that culture, personal honor, not wealth, was what was most respected. The dishonest steward has major debtors adjust the ledger themselves, making them culprits in the deed. So they cannot
claim to have been duped by the steward should they be caught cheating. In addition, at least some of the reduction would have also reduced, or perhaps eliminated the bribery (bakhsh) amount tacked
on originally by the steward as his fee. Jesus acknowledges that the steward is crafty, for by secretly allowing major debtors to reduce their financial debt, the steward has elevated his master’s reputation and so honor among the villagers. They see the master as a compassionate and generous man for forgiving such large debts. In effect, the steward has made it almost impossible for his master to punish him for forgiving some of the debt.
And the lesson Jesus intends for us…? Focus not so much on the things of this world. Do not make your life’s goal mere wealth and power, for those things are transitory at best. Rather, seek ways to
insure a place in heaven when our worldly investments either fail or fail to satisfy. Honor in this lifetime, while welcome, is no substitute for doing what God has commanded, even if it brings rejection and ridicule from those wrapped up in material goods and worldly acclaim. St. Paul exhorts us to live simply, striving to lead quiet and tranquil lives devoted to serving God and one another. Mahatma Ghani said it eloquently, “Live simply, so others can simply live.” Pray for a peaceful spirit and the grace to avoid anger and argument, for these emotions disrupt our sense of well-being and often harm our health.
Use the wealth—the gifts we have to befriend others, caring about them, sharing with them, and in solidarity lifting them up when they fall. Then, when our time of need comes, as it almost inevitably will do one day, we will be able to accept the generosity of others that will sustain us. Today would be an appropriate time to consider how you might share your time and your talent with our community here at St. Mary’s for starters. I think the signup sheets are still available if you need one.
Today Jesus reminds us that we are all members of one body. As Catholic Christians, we understand the body to be that of Christ. For non-Christians, they may think in terms of our common human
nature, desires, and needs. Regardless of our viewpoint, we all know of the hungry and the homeless among us. We read of the victims of drought, fire, and storm across our country and the world; some of these people we know personally. We can only imagine the fear and strain on immigrants at our borders—families with children seeking a place of safety and hope. We know to pray for the millions of people world-wide who are victims of unprecedented flooding, global warming, political strife, famine and war. And we are challenged to consider our blessings and in whatever capacity we have, to assist others in their hour of need. This is Jesus’ command: love God above all else, and others as ourselves. Share what we can, remembering that all we have is a result of God’s grace; there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman.
As is often the case, today Jesus’ words surprised us! He praised the self-centered actions of a dishonest servant. Instead, may our actions be generous and honorable so that Jesus can say to us, welcome home, good and faithful servants, for when I was in need, you were there to comfort me.