Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 8:4-7 | 1 Timothy 2:1-8 | Luke 16:1-13
Oh God, who founded all the commands of your sacred law upon love of you and of our neighbor, grant that, by keeping your precepts, we merit to attain eternal life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
There’s something so beautiful, so simple, so human about this set of readings. I want to begin my thoughts with this image. The God who came into the world, the God who first revealed himself to Abraham and then to his people, through Moses and through the prophets, the whole process of that God revealing himself was this slow uncovering of a God who no one really expected. Gods were always demanding, always in need of being worshipped, honored, praised, sacrifices offered to them over and over again. The image of we, as human beings, were to serve the gods by giving them things that we wanted for ourselves or maybe for others, but it was always this idea that we would give something away to him, and he would be so pleased. Sacrifice, even sacrificing your children was a common thing, but this God, this God of Abraham, this God, who gave us the fullness of who he is in this God/man Jesus, had another quality that was so beautiful and so attractive. And that is he has a weakness for us, a longing to take care of us, a longing to please us, a longing to give us the things that ultimately we really need, not what we want necessarily but what we really need.
One of the things he’s taught us is that we should pray and not just to him, not just honoring him with our prayers, but we should pray for each other. That’s the beautiful thing of that middle reading. Everyone should be working to pray for one another, and I often think to myself, “We’re asking God to do what God does. Please help my friends. Please make this person more aware, more conscious. Help him to turn away from that which destroys him.” It’s like we’re talking to God about doing what God has already intended to do. We’re not praying to him to draw attention to someone who he hasn’t paid attention to. So why? Why do we pray like that? I think it’s somehow that God’s intention is to bring life to every human being. That’s who he is, and he’s created a world where that takes place. But the world he’s created is not a world where we are basically robots doing what he says, but we’re free agents who can decide to choose to be a part of this process that God is so engaged in, healing, caring for, taking care of people. And we underestimate the power of our intention, the power of what we want, as if we think, “Well, God’s running everything. We’re just here to receive it.” No, he’s made this strange relationship with us where we’re here to work with him, join him, be a part of the work that he does, an essential part, not that he can’t do it without us, but that he’s planned it this way. This is what he wants it to be. So when you are engaged in the work of caring for your brothers and sisters by asking God to help them. You could imagine them really asking God to help me be who I need to be for that person without having to say it that way. “Please help him. I’ll do anything you want me to do to be a part of that healing, to be a part of that freedom that I long for the person who seems entrapped in something that destroys him.”
So praying is a symbol of our being a part of who God is and what God is about, and he’s about compassion, empathy. Religion at the time that Jesus walked this earth was anything but compassionate and empathetic. They worked out a fine system so that, if anybody was in need, anybody had a health problem or a financial problem, you wrote them off, because they had obviously done something wrong, broken a law, and they were being punished by God. So people who were struggling were to be considered outcasts. Just don’t get near them. What a strange, twisting of reality. Religion is often capable of that. It’s frightening that it can do that so effectively at times. So into this rigid system of control comes this God who reveals a heart in the person of Jesus particularly that is mindboggling. He cares. He’s compassionate. He suffers with people that are suffering. The last thing he does is write them off. The first thing he does is rushes to see what I can do to help them, and that intention to help them is so intense that it just overrides nature in a simple way of saying here’s a power that is stronger than nature at the heart of nature. It can do anything — anything, heal things that can’t be healed by natural processes maybe.
So we see this God revealing himself as someone who cares so deeply, and so you look at this first and gospel reading, and it’s so timely to me, it seems. It’s about God and mammon. And mammon, I’m not sure how to describe mammon, but the best way I can do it for you is, when you are working, living desiring nothing but what you want and what you need and you care nothing about who you take it from or how much pain you cause, that’s mammon, total self-centeredness, no compassion, sociopathic life, frightening. So the first reading talks about people who are in business, and they’re saying, oh, they can’t wait for the time to come when they’re setting their scales, and they’re getting ready to sell, and they come up with all these schemes where they can sell impure properties by filling them with stuff that has no value. They’re wanting to fix their scales so, when somebody buys a pound of something, they’re really only getting three-quarters of a pound, and all this stuff, and they’re just so greedy and so anxious to suck life out of people through what they’ve considered to be really smart, making a ton of money off of other people, taking from those in need, something that just makes them feel so much more important, perhaps more comfortable. It sounds so much like what we see so often in major, major corporations today, people making enormous amounts of money by sucking as much out of people as they can, as much as they’ll endure, as much as they’ll pay. That’s all they need to know is, “If they’ll pay for it, we can charge it. Then we can get more and more and more, and they’ll have less and less and less. That’s good business.” It’s frightening.
So we see then in the gospel, Jesus pointing out this very, very real, real problem. “What are you going to do? How are you going to deal with this part of your life?” So he brings up, I think, just a really simple and wonderful story. One of the things he was so good as is sort of talking about life that was outside of the norms, the narrow norms that religion had fixed for us to consider to be acceptable. The one thing we knew, or you know, or we can know, we can find out that at the time Jesus walked the earth, the religion that he was a part of forbad anyone to charge money for someone else, for using money. In other words, to have a loan was considered immoral. To give a loan to someone was immoral. To charge them with nothing that you’re doing for them, you just gave them the use of your money for a while, and to make them pay for that was considered to be absolutely unfair, unjust and wrong. So I love when Jesus can play with reality that goes way beyond those narrow, narrow restrictions of the way things are supposed to be. So he talks about a man who is in the business of running somebody’s loan department, so to speak, and he’s in charge of payments coming back, which would have, of course, been filled with interest. And so he’s about to lose his job, so he’s thinking, “Oh man, I don’t want to go to work. I don't know what to do. I don’t want to beg. I’m too proud. I know what I’ll do. I’ll make friends. I’ll do things for people with my job. I’ll give them something that they will so appreciate that, when I’m let go, they will take care of me. I will establish a healthy relationship with these people, one based in generosity, caring for them, using my position to make their position better.” What a strange idea for a business. Some kinds of businesses, when they say, “We’re here only to serve these customers, and we need to make sure we don’t make too much money, because it’s not fair. We just need to make a good living. They need to make a good living. So why would we want to be paid in extravagant amounts? So this would be just kind of silly. We’re all in this together. Let’s take care of each other. Let’s build these relationships.”
So funny whenever you go to a place, and you feel like you’re being ripped off by either a price that’s outlandish or by something. There’s something in you that just turns — I don't know. It makes you kind of sick, and you say, “Yeah, yeah. Greed is everywhere.” You get an estimate from one company, and then you find another company will do it for half the price and the same product, and you go, “What is going on?” And you feel close to that business that wanted to make you pay twice the profit that someone else can live off of and make a profit and give you such a better price? Of course you’re drawn to the person who takes care of you. What a bizarre kind of concept. Businesses are there not to make money for the owners or the shareholders but for the fairness and the goodness that they can bring to people. It’s a service. It’s a service. Serve, serve, serve. That’s so much what Jesus wants us to understand about why we’re here. We’re all here to serve each other, give something to each other, and the beauty of that is what happens to people in an environment where they’re constantly being fed, nurtured, cared for. It’s amazing. Your whole disposition kind of changes. You feel good. You feel comfortable. You feel safe, and you want to do the same thing for other people. And that seems so clear to me in what Jesus is simply trying to say with this, and when you see this man being condemned by the law but being honored even by Jesus, saying, “He’s smart.” That’s pretty wise. Take care of people, and surprise, surprise, they will take care of you. Take as much out of people all of your life that you can, and you’re going to end up with nobody, maybe a lot of money, maybe a lot of things but nobody, no one. And we’re not made for possessions. We’re not made for things. They’re wonderful. There’s nothing wrong with them. There’s nothing wrong with having beautiful things, comfortable things, but when you do it at the price of everyone else, when you do it at the price of taking something away from people, which is their right, then there’s something absolutely out of balance.
There’s something else, I think, I want you to feel with me in these readings. What God is trying to say to us is this God that is — well, let me put it this way. I like the image that I read when St. Catherine of Siena was having a vision with Jesus. She was saying to him, “I really want to do something for my God, for you. You saved me. I love you. How can I love you? How can I show you something that makes you happy? What can I give you? What do you want from me?” There was a time in the church where we thought, “Well, the more pain I’m in, the more that pleases God. That was wrong, but I worked through that. So the answer that Jesus gave to Catherine was simply, “I don’t need your love in that way. I’m full. I’m fine, but when you love the people I created, that pleases me. That makes me so happy.” Imagine creating everyone out of pure love and loving everyone exactly the same and knowing that they are going to be responding to other people by the way they’ve been treated, and when he sees us mistreating each other and creating in us a negative feeling toward other people, a fear that we’re always going to be taken or be used or a lack of trust in giving yourself over to someone because they’re going to take advantage of you, all of that is things that we have created out of a disposition of mammon. mammon, I want more. I want more. I want more. I think if I have more, I’ll be more. If I have more than you, I am more than you. So at times, it’s important to talk about all the theology. It’s important to talk about the church and all of its regulations and rules, and let’s hopefully believe that they are intended to be helpful for people. But the Catholic Church has always taught that, when people are being given a rule or regulation, a law, and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t produce what it promises, they have the right to stand up and speak, and the church has an obligation to change. That’s not change doctrine. That’s change morals. So we have based in Christianity a very strong notion that the church is here, God is here, we are here for each other, to allow this love, this care, this compassion, this empathy flow between us. I’m smiling right now, because it seems, gosh, how simple is that? How simple is it to go into a day and want that to be the theme of the day, trusting people, not naively but trusting in them, walking away from the people you can’t trust but being there for the people you can and giving them things that they need and just selflessly giving them things. Talk about a money exchange where you charge more than is fair, and you make an abundant profit. You can talk about that in relationships. When you give love only to make sure you’re controlling the person to get something back, it’s the same problem, mammon, self, self-interests, control. It’s the thing that is deadly in this kingdom, and the kingdom is here to bring light and life and peace, and it does if it’s given the chance to be exactly what it was intended to be.
Father, your love, your compassion, your empathy for us is beyond our imagining. It’s hard for us to believe that we are loved that way, so unconditionally, so completely. Unfortunately it’s not the experience we have with your institutions, your leadership, our friends, our family, and we have to be careful that we don’t confuse you and your beautiful care and love with those people who represent you. So bless us with a clear, clean vision of you, all that you are, all that you long to be for us, and let us live in that new land where we’re fed, nourished with you, and we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.