Twenty Fifth Sunday of the Year
We are a shrewd lot in this world
If there is a buck to be made
We will make it
If there is power to be gained
We will gain it
If there is a way to come out on top
We will damn the ones below
As we climb
We are a shrewd lot in this world
But who have we hurt
(the least of these my brothers and sisters)
who is on the bottom and why
and in the end
what have we gained
what have we lost
if I gain it all
or give it all away
the question is the same
what master do I serve?
Last week tax collectors and sinners sought the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say. Jesus’ stories today might have delighted the people (the poor peasants, fisherfolk, beggars, prostitutes, and unemployed day labourers) who came to listen to him. It would have been humourous to hear about ‘stewards’ unable to dig a hole in the ground or mortified at the thought of begging; or hearing about rich landowners storing up grain one day and dying the next day and unable to enjoy their wealth. They would have seen the inconsistency of a greedy property owners punishing their managers for financial failures whilst they themselves were having a good time. They would have shaken their heads of heartless employers who reaped where they did not sow. Today’s story features a manager, steward, who cheats his manager who in turn appreciates the imagination and creativity in his employee.
Amos lambasts the rich for ‘trampling on the needy’. Oppression stirs him with God’s passion. Currencies are manipulated, scales rigged to short-change their customers, workers underpaid. This passion, expressing God’s love, shows that God is not indifferent to what we do to others: in families, in communities, in our world.
Though a time of national prosperity, social unrest was rift. Amos saw the great disparity between the rich and the poor which continue today, as various Reports show. A few are ruled by greed and seeking greater profit as the majority poor are exploited, neglected, and treated as commodities. The earth, too, is being trampled on and looking more like ’a pile of filth’ (Laudato si’ ). Trampling upon the needy, our earth, and ruining the lives of the poor by greed, exploitation, destruction of the earth, and closed hearts and minds cannot be overlooked. Pope Francis reminds us ’everything is connected.’ And the current Season of Creation is a timely reminder greater consciousness of this interconnection in our daily lives. We can be overwhelmed by never-ending violence against young and old, or the impact of the continued marginalisation of people of colour or the lack of honesty and integrity in leadership on national and local levels or the refusal to care for the environment in the face of certain and not-so-far-in-the-future destruction. Prophets such as Amos through lament painfully express despair and grief at the behaviour of the people of God. They could not stand aside on the edges or high on a balcony to hurtful and unjust behaviour. Even the earth bears the mark of their defiance. The burden of any prophet is to hear and proclaim the heart of God through one’s own lenses, experiences, emotions, concerns, anxieties, and fears. Amos confronts his contemporaries on the meaning of their religious services when they remain uncritical of what happens in society. Religion and greed cannot share the same pew. True religion and true prayer inserts us more into the world, enables us to see more clearly and give voice to the hurt caused by injustice.
Would not God’s passion be aroused at the past and ongoing neglect of the First Nations’ Peoples and our failure to listen to their pain and suffering? or how we cheated the people of Timor-Leste of its precious resources? or the failure to address homelessness and mental illness? or the silence at institutional child abuse? or the refusal to take responsibility for our part in the plight of Pacific Island nations living with the effects of climate change? We might ask where is our passion at these injustices?
Passion for God and our brothers and sisters means we try to use everything at our disposal to build up God’s Reign. Again, we are to search our hearts and consider whether the One who came for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned, the sick and the stranger has a unique place in our hearts. We need prophetic leadership to speak directly to systems. Because the poor have no voice, God becomes their advocate. God is the God of the poor. It should make us, as a society and as individuals, to rethink how we respect people and our ’home’ and take care of the poor and our poor earth. Our challenge is to view the world through God’s eyes and address what needs healing.
Jesus calls us to live creatively, to take the initiative, and be imaginative. May we use the gifts we have received. What do we do with power? Do we use it to serve one another? Do we use our gifts for friendship, conversation, humour, loyalty to make the world a better place? Do election choices and support for politicians derive from how they will serve us or be for the good of all? Yesterday, on September 21, the UN International Day of Peace, we had the opportunity to reflect on the daily choices we have in building up a culture of encounter and a culture of peace where we live and beyond. How do we choose to live together in the face of other options – intolerance, racism, hatred, homophobia, discrimination, and disregard for human rights? To live as God’s people is to regard people as nothing less than a sister or brother who bears the image of God.
Though wealth and possessions can divide us from the poor, Jesus’ message today is not just good news for the poor but good news for the rich. The manager uses ‘things’ to build relationship. The commendation here may be the use of wealth and gifts to build relationship with the poor who are often ahead of us in hearing the gospel. The parable’s open conclusion beckons us to complete the story by entering into friendship with the poor. Then we will be able to hear Jesus’ hard words about mammon as good news for the poor and for ourselves too. Clearly, in many communities, the Church is among the wealthiest organisations. It wealth must not be taken for granted. It is due to the sacrifices and generosity of many people and that this wealth is not a sign of God’s blessing but as a resource to share. The church cannot fall into the temptation to accumulate wealth for its own sake but to help and lift up the needy among us and in our region.
Jesus warns, "You cannot serve both God and mammon," but seems to be saying that mammon, though of questionable value in itself, can and should be used for good. Silvano Fausti, Jesuit scripture scholar, says ’mammon’ is surplus money - more than one needs to live decently. Pope Francis, in Fratelli tutti, makes the same point when quoting John Chrysostom, ’Not to share our wealth [think mammon] with the poor is to rob them and take away their livelihood. The riches we possess are not our own, but theirs as well.’ He cites Gregory the Great, who said, ’When we provide the needy with their basic needs, we are giving them what belongs to them, not to us.’ Francis laments that wrote Fratelli Tutti during the Covid 19 pandemic we could have cultivated a shared passion and a community of belonging and solidarity when faced by our common vulnerability.
Amos demonstrates how to look at reality with eyes that perceive how our societal norms grant excess to some, leaving others to languish who endure systems like capitalism with less and less moral vision. We need the type of prophetic leadership that Jesus, Amos, and Francis offer here—to speak directly to systems and people that deny and subjugate others, to remind them of their power and privilege and their responsibility to God and God’s people. The earth and all in it belong to God. We are to be caretakes.
We know that constantly using up the land, without thought to anything other than amassing wealth, is the cause of so many of our problems. We produce, use and consume constantly which lead to major global problems. Growing inequality, allows some of us to grow our wealth while others struggle. We are destroying our planet, and harming the poor and vulnerable, because we refuse to take a break from amassing wealth. By focusing too much on consumption and material wealth, we harm ourselves, we harm others, and we harm creation. When discussing what needs to be done to combat the climate crisis, discussion turns immediately to how much it would cost, or harm our economic growth, and what we need to sacrifice.
The call of Francis, Amos and Jesus is that we must engage in an act of profound (ecological) conversion and recognise that that we are not masters of creation but its caretakers.
It is so easy to name the sufferings of life – my pain,
my neighbors' pain, the pain of the world.
Do you see our suffering? Do you feel our pain?
Help us to identify the suffering, to name the pain
and to turn towards you.
Hear the world cry. Come to us.
Out in Scripture