Abbey 22 September 2013 25th Ordinary Sunday – C
I Timothy 2:1-8
Prophets were not people to be messed with. And Amos was one of those prophets you would rather not see walking in the streets of your city. It was not because prophets were walking around predicting the future that made people uncomfortable. It had more to do with the fact that they spoke out loud what was really going on in the present. The prophets told it like it was and they didn’t mince words. Amos must have frequented the market place and the shops. He could see beyond the pleasant smiles of the sales person. He heard the conversation in the back room. He listened to business people talking about when the Sabbath and the New Moon feast will be over so that they could get on with making another dollar. It might sound like a conversation leading up to a rationalization for keeping shops open on Sunday. It is not a mater of convenience; it is a matter of finding another way to make more money. In 8th century BC Israel, Amos knew very well what was happening in the economic and social life of the country. And his word is directed against it. The system set out to make the landowner wealthier but at the expense of the poor and those in need. More money was to be had, at someone else’s expense. From Amos’ point of view the system in Israel developed to the point where it was not longer a reflection of the covenant that God has made with his people. The economic system had become a sin against the commandments and covenant.
The Word today clearly makes us stick our nose into the reality of money, wealth and possessions. The Word is concerned about how money and wealth are made, or accumulated. And the Word is equally concerned about what to do with it. Money is not something that can be avoided. It is part of human life; the exchange of goods and services is part of everyday life. But there is a value to money and wealth more than the numbers on the bills, coins and stock certificates. The value comes from the position we give it in relation to the whole of life. If we live in a society that deems having and possessing as a high value, as a reason for living and working, then all our energy will be focused on finding better ways of having, getting and possessing. Money and wealth are something to be fought for and in the struggle to acquire we slowly lose sight of the methods of how the things are gotten. If convenience and speed are objects worth pursuing, then we will invest much to make that happen. But probably we will lose sight of how it is we are able to have so much at our fingertips when we want it. Amos had a clear vision of things; he saw very well how some people in Israel were getting richer. And he saw quite clearly that it was the poor, the needy, the immigrant, the common laborer who were being taken advantage of.
What is disturbing about the prophet Amos is that what he sees God sees or better he follows where God is looking. As a true prophet his response is really God’s response, God’s word to what he sees happening in the economic-social arrangement of the day. What is disturbing is that when God sees, then the prophet makes sure we see who and what God sees. God sees those who are affected by the business deals, namely, the poor. And in his seeing God makes it clear on whose side he stands: the side of the needy, the lowly, the poor. The final words of the oracle today should pierce our heart and consciences: Never will I forget what they have done. If our God remembers, then he remembers the victim of other people’s greed and selfishness, the exploited. He remembers if a land is raped to make someone else rich. We are called upon today to hear the Word of God through Amos so that we do not forget where our God stands. Not only does he stand with the poor, but he stands with them because they have become the victims of injustice, of an imbalance in human relationships. God sees and understands what the poor see and experience. Those living by the covenant of God, you and I, are meant to find ourselves seeing with the eyes of God and become part of restoration of the use of this world’s goods and wealth. Jesus and the Kingdom are precisely how God remembers the exploited.
Jesus tells a parable today that is strange by all accounts. How a manager or steward who decides to reduce his master’s debts actually gets commended for his cleverness in spite of the fact that he was caught squandering the master’s property. The question inevitable arises is Jesus condoning playing around with someone else’s property? Thinking about that doesn’t get too far. But what seems certain is that both the steward and the master come to the conclusion that wealth isn’t everything, or money isn’t everything. Having more wheat and oil is not the highest value. Managing property in such a way as to squeeze the last drop or penny out of it suddenly seems to be questioned. The irony is that the steward only comes to realize this when he is about to loose his job. And the master recognizes this change too, even if it seems that it is at his expense. The point seems to be that money and acquiring goods will not necessarily earn you friends that are faithful. Relinquishing someone’s debts may make you a more welcome human being. Forgiveness will make for a stronger human bond than a demand for what is owed in material goods.
Jesus is not above using shady characters or less than likeable people and situations to speak about God and his Kingdom. It is Jesus’ power as a story teller that he can use the most human situations, filled with ambiguity and even bad ethics, to make us sit up and take a look at how God works. The steward-manager may very well have had some leeway in dealing with the master’s property and debts. But one of Jesus’ points is that the man was in a crisis, a deeply personal crisis. He was about to be thrown out into the streets with nowhere to go. In that crisis, he suddenly realizes what he needs to do to be welcomed when his position is terminated. The crisis forces him to act for his own welfare. He created a circle of friends who would be grateful to him for relieving their debt. It is for his clever, or as the text has it, his prudential wisdom, that the rich master commends him.
Jesus now comments: You children of light, meaning disciples, people of the covenant, you Church members, you should be just as clever when it comes to handling the precious gift of the Kingdom and its riches that have been given to you. All of us have been given something to manage, something of which we are the steward. And for most of us, it may just well be something small, something we would easily over look because it seems insignificant or just routine. But it is precisely how we manage the small thing that will lead us into the fullness of the Kingdom and its wealth. The steward in the parable was clever in this life; ours is to have a wisdom that embraces a larger vision. Jesus knows there is wealth, riches and property in this life; its acquisition may be flawed, deeply flawed. But how we handle wealth, even in its flawed state, will really show how we handle the real wealth of life, spirit and love, both human and divine.
To be a child of light, and that is our calling and gift, does not mean to run from this world; it means to manage in this world the light, the gift, the love that has its origin in God and has been poured out for us in Christ Jesus, his son. And if it is the wealth of this world that is ours to manage, then we must do as the steward did: share the master’s wealth.