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September 18 2016 (C) Twenty-Fifth SUNDAY of Year

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Prayer, faith, danger of addiction to wealth

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

Reading (Amos 8:4-7). Against those who “buy up the poor for money”. Amos was a sheep-farmer and a tender of fruit trees in the southern kingdom of Judah and was called by God to leave his flocks and prophesy against the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and at the royal sanctuary at Bethel. This was in the mid-eighth century BC. It was a period in which Israel had expanded and become very wealthy, but one in which the rich exploited the poor, and made a show of rich liturgical services with scant respect for the demands of God’s commandments. It was a time of war, and serious war crimes among the small surrounding nations. Amos fearlessly denounced these crimes in God’s name and was equally fearless in denouncing Israel’s serious failures. They would be punished by God for their sins, and so they were with the destruction the state, its capital and its shrines in 722-721. Today’s reading illustrates the greed of the wealthy for gain, marketing at a profit preferably without interruption by the required abstention from trade on the New Moons (first of the month) and the sabbaths. They were fraudulent in the business transactions with their weights, prices (bushel, ephah, shekel) and scales. The poor and the needy were expendable, to be exploited for the benefit if the rich. The Lord swears by “the pride of Jacob”, that is possibly by himself, or maybe by the arrogance of Israel, or even by the Holy Land itself, swears that the poor will be vindicated.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 112[113]). Praise the Lord, who raises the poor.

Second Reading (1 Timothy 2:1-8). There should be prayers offered for everyone to God, who wants everyone to be saved. It is well to seek to understand this reading against its historical background. The Pastoral Letters, of which this reading forms part, were addressed to churches within the highly organized Roman Empire, with a divine emperor at its head. The Church had to remain conscious of, and faithful to, its origin and mission, originating in Jesus Christ sole mediator between God and the human race and with the mission to bring the Gospel message to all people. It had to retain and solidify its identity as God’s people, but now quite conscious of the larger political world within which it found itself as a tiny minority. This reading gives directives on these matters, here as elsewhere stressing universality and inclusiveness. First and foremost come prayers, of various kinds, and for everyone, but especially for those in authority, including the Emperor who at the time may have been Nero. They would pray that the civil authorities would allow Christian live the Christian life in peace, without criminal charges. The reason for this universal prayer is also given: for the salvation of all and that they may come to a knowledge of the truth, of the Christian faith undoubtedly. The fundamental truth of Christ as sole mediator between God and the human race is reaffirmed. Christ himself had said that he had come to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28). In keeping with his style, and perspective, the author of the Pastorals is inclusive: Christ gave his life as a ransom for all. Christ Jesus was witness by his sacrifice as ransom for universal salvation in his time, that appointed by God, and Paul was chosen herald and apostle and the teacher of this faith and truth to the pagans.

The Gospel (Luke 16:1-13). You cannot be the slave of both God and money. At times one would wish that the Sunday liturgy only presented Gospel readings that were easily understood. In the current lectionary we are given some readings that require thought, and some explanation, to be intelligible. This present reading is one such. The opening parable is regarded by some scholars as noteworthy for its obscurity. This reading is also somewhat obscure in that the parable has appended to it some sayings of Jesus not of one sort. First of all we have the parable, which seems to end with the words “the master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness”. A central point of the parable is the desire of the crafty, astute, even unjust, steward to have some people to welcome him into their houses when he is dismissed from office. With this in mind he reduces the amounts due to his master from “a hundred measures of oil” (NRSV: “a hundred jugs of olive oil”) to fifty, and “a hundred measures of wheat” (NRSV: “a hundred containers of wheat”) to eighty. He is praised by “the master” for his astuteness, the master probably being the one about to dismiss him, which is rather strange. Or the master may be Jesus. In either case Jesus is not condoning or advocating action like that of the steward. The central point of the parable is the steward’s desire to use material good to ensure a place of reception at a later stage. It is this Jesus takes up, comparing the astute action of humans (“children of this world”) with regard to their future with those enlightened by God, the children of light, a designation used of themselves by members of the Qumran community (as distinct from the enemies, “the children of darkness”). The text goes on to give sayings of Jesus on the use of money (mammon), material goods, all in relation to points made in the parable. Money, called tainted, should be used to gain friends in “the tents of eternity”, treasures in heaven through almsgiving. The steward’s untrustworthiness leads to saying on trust, and a warning that untrustworthiness, dishonesty, with money, material wealth, is a grave danger to spiritual values. The sayings end with the well-known one on two masters and that a person cannot be the slave of both God and money

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Prayer, faith, danger of addiction to wealth

Reflection. Prayer and faith. Today’s Sunday readings present an ideal opportunity of combining reflection and dialogue with modern life. The situation reflected by the Pastoral Epistles, of which 1 Timothy is one, is that in which the Christian movement had passed beyond individual churches, such as Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, Rome to one in which its numbers have increased and that it is now conscious of being communities belonging to a larger world Church. They must reflect on how to act within a highly organized civil society while remaining faithful to the church’s origin and mission. The first call is to prayer, a community activity but also one for all society; prayer in its various forms, petitions, intercession, and thanksgiving, with no anger or argument. With this, or rather as source of this, goes firm faith in Jesus, his atoning death, and the mission of the Church to be witness of this to all peoples.

            The Gospel reading centres on the dangers of allowing money or wealth to be our masters. It is easy to have this lead to dialogue with modern life. From recent history we know only too well how the pursuit of wealth has destroyed eminent persons, and whole societies. It can lead to crass materialism and neglect or denial of the spiritual. Our present Holy Father has called attention to this, and has exhorted priests and others to turn to a life of Gospel simplicity. Some political leaders, with no strong religious affiliations, are doing the same. There are some eminent examples, of course, of the wealthy and millionaires who give lavishly to voluntary causes, and to the poor. Jesus stresses the value of having mammon, money, wealth, lead to almsgiving, to aid for the poor. It is to be hoped that the Gospel message of the danger of mammon becoming a task-master, leading to bondage, will be noted.