Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dives and Lazarus


                                    26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               




Just like last week, today's first reading is from the Book of the prophet Amos. We must remember that for the most part prophecy is not about foretelling the future but about calling attention to the wrongs in the present. Amos is no exception. His criticism of the idleness and greed of the well-to-do in his own time seems to ring true in our time as well.

He says, "Woe to the complacent in Zion!" What accusations does he bring? Their homes are furnished luxuriously. They eat the choicest foods and drink the finest wines. They sing and dance with abandon. Today, we have cable channels devoted to each of those subjects. We have food channels, fashion channels, music channels, and home improvement channels.

One of the key messages of the Hebrew scriptures is the obligation to care for the lowly and the poor. All were expected to act as good stewards on behalf of those in need. In today's first reading the Prophet Amos claims that his people have failed to come to the aid of the needy, and that they will suffer the consequences.

This same theme is the subject of today's gospel where Jesus tells the famous parable of the rich man and the poor beggar, Lazarus. This parable is the third famous story in the 16th chapter of Luke’s gospel. Two weeks ago we heard the story of the Prodigal Son, and last week it was the story of the unjust steward who cheated his master. Jesus tells the  stories to a group of Pharisees who were known for their strict, even rigid observance of every aspect of the Law. Jesus complains that while they make an outward show of goodness, they fail to abide by the true spirit of the Law.

Isn’t it obvious that the stories are directed to us as well. We live in the richest country in the history of the world. Even in these economic hard times the poor in our country are more well off than most of the rest of the people on the globe. A few years ago I heard a priest say that there are 7 million street boys in Brazil alone. These abandoned street children are ill-clothed, ill-fed, ill-housed, and ill-educated. Most are already involved in criminal activity and will surely not even live to manhood. Efforts to help often seem fruitless and counter-productive.It breaks your heart.

What can we do? Frankly, I think it would take a great saint like Mother Teresa to deal with such a problem. But she started out by reaching out to heal one single child. From that point through prayer and self sacrifice she built a world wide order of sisters devoted to caring for the poor. Most of us cannot match the zeal and skill of this great woman but maybe we could profit by looking closely at today’s gospel.

First, Jesus makes the care of the needy a personal thing. He does not talk about curing world hunger and bringing about world peace. He focuses on two men: one is incredibly rich and the other incredibly poor. The poor man does not live far away on another continent. He lives (maybe it’s more accurate to say dies) right outside the rich man’s palace. Jesus is saying that the Pharisees could have used the excuse that the beggar was unclean according to the Law, and not touchable by any self-respecting person. But Jesus is saying that this excuse in not available to us. The spirit of the law requires us to help.

Thank goodness most of us do. St. Paul certainly understood the message of today’s gospel. He tells the young priest, Timothy, that he has the obligation to see Christ in all those entrusted to his care, and warns him,

But if we deny Him

He will deny us.

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Reading 1. Amos 6: 1a, 4-7
Reading II. 1 Timothy 6: 11-16
Gospel. Luke 16: 19-31( Dives and Lazurus).


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Parable of the Unjust Steward

                                    25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                                



One of the key messages of the Hebrew Scriptures is the obligation to care for the lowly and the poor. All were expected to act as good stewards on behalf of those in need. In today's first reading the Prophet Amos claims that his people have not only failed to come to the aid of the needy, but that they are actually cheating those they are supposed to help.

For these oppressors the service of God and their neighbor is of no value. The unscrupulous business practices that Amos points out in his own time have their counterparts in our time. It was common in ancient times to debase the coinage or medium of exchange used in business dealings. To diminish the ephah or add to the shekel was a way of cheating the unwary. In the same way adjusting scales to give false readings was a way to give less value for the money.

Today, most forms of cheating in business seem far removed from our ordinary lives. Most of us will never be involved in nefarious Wall St. scandals that will see us led off to jail in handcuffs. Most of us will never be in a position to embezzle thousands from our employer. Most of us will never be like illegitimate building contractors who take money but never complete the job.

Today’s gospel is about another crook, the unjust steward. He was cheating his own master or employer. You may recall that last week’s gospel was also about someone who squandered his master’s wealth. Last week it was the Prodigal Son. Today’s gospel follows immediately after that famous parable in St. Luke’s gospel and there is good reason. While there are similarities in the two stories, there is a profound difference.

In last week’s gospel the Prodigal Son, after squandering his father’s inheritance, realized what he had done, repented, confessed, and begged for forgiveness. In today’s account the unjust steward, after squandering his master’s wealth, neither repents nor asks for forgiveness. He just seeks a way out but only gets deeper and deeper into crime. He goes to his master’s debtors and does them favors by cheating his employer further. He’s hoping that these debtors will remember and reward him. After all, he admits that he dislikes hard work, and is too ashamed to beg.

People have wondered why the master seems to “commend” the unjust steward for his criminal behavior. “And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.” Personally, I detect sarcasm here. It’s as if the master was saying, “Sure, hang out with those bums. Just wait and see what happens. Why would any of those debtors ever trust the steward when they know that he has cheated his own master? Even crooks understand the words of today’s gospel.


The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
Is also trustworthy in great ones;
And the person who is dishonest in very small matters
Is also dishonest in great ones.

Politicians like to tell us today that there is a difference between private and public morality. They think that they can cheat on their spouses but serve their constituents faithfully. Nevertheless, deep down we all know that if they are unfaithful to their own spouses, why should they be faithful to us?

In today’s second reading St. Paul asks us to pray for those in authority. He must have known how difficult it would be for people in power to be faithful and just stewards. Still, it is clear that it is not just political leaders who are called to be stewards. We are all called to stewardship. We must follow the example of Jesus “who gave himself as a ransom for all.”

We have all been entrusted with the responsibility to care for others. Husbands and wives have the responsibility to care for each other. It’s amazing to me how often people in business will treat their clients with the greatest care and respect, but ignore the needs of their spouses. In another place, St. Paul tells us that single people have an even greater responsibility to care for others. Speaking of responsibility don’t we make a great mistake when we give our children little or no responsibility?

Even though most of us are just ordinary people, we are all called to be stewards. In the eyes of those who have been entrusted to our care we are the biggest shots of all. Why on earth would we turn our backs on our loved ones to make friends with the “mammon of iniquity” ?


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Reading 1. Amos 8: 4-7
Reading II. 1 Timothy 2: 1-8
Gospel. Luke 16: 1-13 (the unjust steward).

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Parable of the Prodigal Son

                                    24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                                  



All three readings today deal with those who have strayed away from the true path to happiness. In the first reading from the Book of Exodus, the whole people of Israel have lost faith in their God who had rescued them from captivity in Egypt, that land where they had become shamefully depraved.

The most famous story in the Bible is the parable of the Prodigal Son. This story is so moving and powerful that the Church returns to it over and over again. We have already heard it this year in the 4th Sunday of Lent, at the onset of Springtime. Now we have it as the Liturgical year is drawing to a close.

It is hard to mistake the meaning of this parable. The Scribes and Pharisees had been complaining that Jesus, "welcomes sinners and eats with them." Before giving us the story of the Prodigal Son, Luke gives us two other short stories. Jesus asked his critics which of them would not behave like a man who left his flock in search of one lost sheep out of a hundred. "When he has found it, he lays it upon his shoulders rejoicing." He calls his friends to rejoice with him "because I have found my sheep that was lost." In the same way, He asks, "what woman, having ten drachmas, if she loses one drachma, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?" The lesson is clear. "There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, more than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance."

Only after these stories does our Lord relate the story of the man and his two sons that we heard today. The story is so familiar that  I would just like to make two points. First, the compassion of a father or mother toward a child is a reflection of the love that God has for all of us. Like God's love it never fails even after the child has grown and become independent. Secondly, the road home begins when the son who had squandered his inheritance accepts responsibility for his actions and places the blame squarely upon himself. "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son."

Many of us will find it difficult to accept the message of this parable. Is it possible to live in a family and not regard your siblings as rivals for your parents love and affection? How often are the parents' efforts directed toward the child who causes the most trouble? Who can't sympathize with the other son in today's story?

            Look, all these years I served you
            and not once did I disobey your orders;
            yet you never gave me even a young goat
            to feast on with my friends.
            But when your son returns
            who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
            to him you slaughter the fatted calf."

Our Lord knows what goes on in our own families. He even knows how when we are angry or hurt we will say "your son" and not "my brother." Notice the father's answer. He says, "we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life."

Today's second reading from St. Paul's letter to Timothy tells of another who strayed. It is Paul himself. "I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant." Paul never tires of calling himself the least of the Apostles.

            Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
            Of these I am the foremost.

Paul believes that his own life is an example of the way God acts as a loving parent who is always ready to welcome us home.

God is Love. We can turn our backs on Him and go astray but He can never turn His back on us. Too often we think of God as an angry old dictator ready to zap us whenever we step out of line. Today's reading from the Book of Exodus gives us the image of such an angry God but there is also a hint that even in those early days Moses believed in a God of mercy and forgiveness. Certainly, we can never think of God as an angry patriarch after reading our Lord's parable of the Prodigal Son.

The real sin of the Prodigal Son was that he squandered his inheritance in a foreign land. Rather than converting the foreigners, he was led astray and converted by them. Isn't this tragic story true today? How many of our children have squandered their spiritual inheritance upon leaving home. Isn't it sad that so many will discontinue their religious education once they go to High school? Many will cease attending Mass right after receiving the sacrament of Confirmation. By the time they graduate from college, so many will be confirmed agnostics or atheists. As someone once said, "When people cease to believe in God, they will believe in anything." They have given up the beauty, the wisdom, and the inheritance of 2000 years.


We can only hope and pray that when they come to their senses in some foreign land, we will be ready to receive them back without bitterness or rancor, and with open arms.

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Reading 1. Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14
Reading II. 1 Timothy 1: 12-17
Gospel. Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32 (The Prodigal Son).