September 22, 2019 • 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Amos 8:4–7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 113:1–2, 4–6, 7–8 (cf. 1a, 7b)
Second Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1–8
Gospel Acclamation: cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9
Gospel: Luke 16:1–13
When I read the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Amos, I thought to myself, “Wow, this sounds like what I see going on in America!” The readings for this Sunday are about God’s concerns for the plight of the poor, needy and powerless, and for the souls and destiny — temporal and eternal — of those with wealth, power and privilege. Why is God so concerned about the first group, the poor, needy and powerless? Because often the second group takes advantage of of them, because the rich and powerful can shape the government, economy, society and culture to their own benefit, at the expense of the poor. He warns the second group to change their ways, because their souls and destinies depend on it.
And that is what is going on in this first reading. Amos, a prophet who is a shepherd by trade (and thus one of the first group) in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, has been called by God to warn the Northern Kingdom of Israel of their impending disaster because of their sins.
This Sunday’s passage focuses on all-consuming greed that takes advantage of those seeking one of the necessities of life: food. In America, it is happening with all kinds of necessities, like medical care, housing, energy, etc.
In the reading, the rich grain merchants are so greedy that they chafe at the restrictions placed upon their economic activities by their religion. Money has first place in their lives over God and human beings.
When I was a kid growing up in a small town in New Jersey, we had what were known as the “Blue Laws,” which required all businesses, with a few exceptions for travel related ones, to be closed on Sunday, so that people would hopefully spend the day attending worship services and engaging in restorative activities. Now many businesses are open 24/7/365. Workers are working in shifts around the clock.
Another thing these merchants were doing was rigging the system to maximize profits while giving their customers less for their money. They were diminishing the ephah, the dry unit for measuring grains, so that people were receiving less for the same amount of money. Have you noticed how they have been doing that in the grocery industry in recent years?
The lowly and the poor of Israel had been reduced from real people to commodities to support the rich and powerful. They must have their Gucci sandals and precious metals!
These rich farmers were supposed to leave the gleanings, left over wheat products in the fields and on the threshing floors, so that the poor and needy could pick through them and find missed grains of wheat. Not these guys, they made sure nothing was left behind.
The Northern Kingdom did not repent, and after many warnings, they were conquered by the Assyrians and carried off into captivity, never to return. They became the “Lost Tribes” of Israel.
It would be easy to conclude that, if we are not rich, we’re off the hook. But God and the Catholic Church are concerned with all societal, commercial, governmental and cultural structures that have injustice and oppression built in, of which we can be enablers by our indifference, apathy and participation. We need to examine our lives to see whether we are seeking to alleviate and minimize injustice and oppression as much as it is within our power with God’s help to do so.
The Psalm reflects on God’s concern for the poor and lowly and praises Him for it. God wants equity and justice, and He will accomplish it, if not in this life then in the next. He will raise and lift the lowly and the poor and seat them with princes at the banquet table. Lifting the poor from the dunghills recalls the multitudes of the poor around the world living in garbage dumps. There are Christian organizations and charities seeking to improve the lives of these people, but they are too few to meet the staggering need.
Here we see God’s concern for all. There is no partiality with God. He desires us to pray for all people, for our leaders, for a peaceful and orderly society and for the salvation of all. God makes it clear that He desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. The Old Testament also echoes this desire of God. “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23). “Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)
The prayers of the Church reflect this emphasis through the prayers of the Mass, in the Our Father (forgive us our trespasses), the Hail Mary (pray for us sinners) and the Fatima prayer (Lead all souls to heaven…).
“Though our Lord Jesus Christ was rich, he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Jesus, as always, is our example of what He is asking us to do.
A lot of people are troubled by the story of the unfaithful steward and don’t know what to do with it. Jesus seems to condone the steward’s unauthorized discounting of the debts owed his master, in order to give him a place to live after he gets fired and evicted by his master for cause. But even the steward’s master is impressed by the steward’s regard for his future, and his resourcefulness in securing it.
Jesus wants us to have a similar regard for our eternal destiny in how we handle the world’s money and goods under our control. His concern for us is similar to God’s concern for Israel in the first reading. He wants us to make it to the Father’s house, where He is preparing a place for us. Sooner or later, we must leave this world. Have we given as serious consideration to our eternal destiny and preparing for it as the unfaithful steward gave to his temporal one?
Are we storing up judgment and risking eternal separation from God, or are we securing our place in heaven by how we use mammon in the service of our King, by using it to alleviate poverty and injustice? Are we mastering mammon in obedient service to our King and his Kingdom values, or is it mastering us?
Some will be troubled by Jesus using the adjective “unrighteous” with the noun, mammon or riches. But love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10) and a great temptation that ensnares and causes the fall of many, both rich and poor alike. Much of the money circulating around has been gotten through unscrupulous means, even if “legal.”
Why can’t we serve both God and Mammon? Because they lead in different directions. It is like a person standing with one foot on an unsecured boat and the other foot on a fixed dock.
We need to examine ourselves and pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24).