Fr. Bryan Howard
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 22 September 2019
Have you ever heard the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same?” A few days ago I was watching a history show about Victorian London. In the 1880s and 1890s the population of London skyrocketed; it grew so fast that they had trouble getting in enough food to feed everyone, and many of the merchants saw an opportunity in that. For many working men bread was the main part of their diet, and they would eat up to two pounds of bread per day. However, most of the bread they were getting was only about 2/3 flour. Either the farmer, or the flour seller, or the baker, or sometimes all three, would add other white powders to the flour to make it go further, like chalk or plaster. This lead to health problems which could lead to death. In our first reading the prophet Amos is talking about different ways the merchants are cheating people, especially the poor. He wrote, “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!” But I’m sure that today stores would never do things like raise prices right before a sale or design products to break after a certain amount of time, or charge higher prices when they know people have no choice but to pay it. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges us to a new way of thinking and acting, a new way of treating our neighbor. Instead of using people to gain wealth, we should use wealth to gain people. He says, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” In the parable the steward is going to be fired for wasting his Lord’s property. Knowing that he doesn’t have the skills to do any other sort of work, and not wanting to do manual labor, he basically commits fraud. He tells his master’s debtors to write out new IOUs and destroys the old records of their debts. The master grudgingly commends him for being clever and making sure that all of those people are now in his debt. So, what do you want out of life? Is your goal to get to heaven? Then use everything at your disposal to achieve that goal.
Jesus also says, “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.” Compared to heaven, money and wealth are small matters, but are we trustworthy in the way that we deal with them? As Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (which is the love of money). Are you a trustworthy steward of the gifts that God has given you? God has given you these things for the good of others.
In the old mafia movies, right before killing someone the boss always says, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” Then they would show him in Church, like nothing had happened. They thought they could separate their “business” lives and their faith in God, but you can’t. Doing that is putting money ahead of God, and ahead of other people. It’s basically just an excuse for selfishness and greed.
So, how can we learn to be trustworthy in small matter? How can we build up our treasures in heaven? By fulfilling our responsibilities faithfully. First, we have a responsibility to worship God, recognizing that our lives and everything good in them is from Him. In the first reading the first thing they complain about is that they’re not allowed to sell on the sabbath, because the second commandment is to keep holy the sabbath, which includes going to Church and abstaining from servile labor. What is servile labor? Well, if gardening is your job, then it’s servile labor, but if gardening is your hobby, then it’s not. 50 or 60 years ago stores didn’t open on Sundays, but today that’s just not the way it is anymore. If you have to work on Sundays, take some other day of the week to dedicate to what is truly important, building up your relationships with God and with your family. Loving God doesn’t take away from our ability to love other people, as if it’s some sort of competition. When we allow God to take His proper place in our lives we find that we love our families and the people around us more and better. In fact, that’s the test of true religion. If it doesn’t help you to grow in love, then you’re not doing it right.
May God help all of us to faithfully fulfill our responsibilities to Him and to our families, jobs, and communities, that, proven trustworthy on the day of our judgement, we may be welcomed into heaven by God and all the angels and saints.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.