Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Money, Money, Money

Today's readings invite us to examine both our attitudes toward money and how we use this necessary but tricky resource.

The First Reading, Amos 8:4-7, tells us what not to do with our money. 

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
and destroy the poor of the land!
“When will the new moon be over,” you ask,
“that we may sell our grain,
and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?
We will diminish the ephah,
add to the shekel,
and fix our scales for cheating!
We will buy the lowly for silver,
and the poor for a pair of sandals;
even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Never will I forget a thing they have done! 

Basically, don't be greedy. Don't cheat. Don't treat others as commodities, ignoring their human dignity. Don't put money ahead of more important things, like people and God. These should be easy lessons, self-evident really, but how well do we follow them? 

Psalm 113 reminds us that God has a special place in His heart for the poor. The psalmist tells us, 

He raises up the lowly from the dust;
from the dunghill He lifts up the poor
to seat them with princes,
with the princes of His own people. 

Why, then, should we set our hearts on money? Why should we be concerned with amassing more and more wealth? Instead, we need to focus our full attention on God, whether we have material abundance or not. Then we will be the kind of poor that He lifts up to Himself. 

The Second Reading, 1 Timothy 2:1-8, doesn't mention money at all, yet it is conspicuous by its absence. St. Paul speaks of living a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. He desires his hearers to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. He longs for sincere, wholehearted prayer and peace between Christians. All of these come from God through Jesus Christ. None of them require money. 

In today's Gospel, Luke 6:1-13, Jesus tells us the parable of the dishonest steward. This man had apparently been rather free with his master's money, and the master heard about it. He required the steward to give him an account of his dealings. The steward knew he was in trouble and figured he had to do something awfully quickly. He had to set up another position for himself. So he approached his master's debtors and let them write new promissory notes, reducing their debt and thereby securing their favor and perhaps a new job. The master must have shaken his head and groaned when he found out what his steward had done, but he had to give the fellow credit. He certainly knew how to use money to win friends. 

Does Jesus condone the steward's actions? Of course not! But He uses them to make a point: I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Jesus doesn't have a very high regard for money. It certainly does lead to dishonesty and wrongdoing, as we saw in the First Reading. As commentator Albert Barnes notes, “The word 'unrighteous,' [dishonest] here, stands opposed to 'the true riches' in Luke 16:11, and means 'deceitful, false, not to be trusted.'...It does not signify, therefore, that they had acquired the property 'unjustly,' but that property was 'deceitful' and not to be trusted.”

We need to use this tricky resource for good. We need to use it to make friends, in other words, to help other people, to meet their needs, to care for them and make their way through the world easier. When we do that, we will receive our reward in Heaven.

Jesus continues with a practical reminder about honesty. We must be honest even in small matters so that we will be able to be honest in large matters. If we aren't, we will lose the trust of our neighbors.

Finally, Jesus offers us another peace of critical advice:

No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.

We must choose. We can serve God. Or we can be slaves of money. We cannot be both. Which are you? Take a few minutes today to examine your attitude toward money and the ways in which you use it.

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