Reflection for Sunday – September 18, 2016
Readings: Amos 8:4-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16: 1-13
Preacher: Joan Sobala, SSJ
For what are we enthusiastic in life?
The readings from Amos and Luke’s Gospel this weekend make us zero in on one particular aspect of our enthusiasm: Are we more concerned for our integrity or our self-interest?
The merchants in Amos’ day exploited the public. They not only cut corners and offered shoddy merchandise, they used two different sets of weights to measure goods—one set for selling, the other for buying. Both were calibrated to the merchants’ advantage. Integrity was not a value to these merchants. Even though these merchants came to the synagogue for weekly prayer, financial gain was their god.
Do not be like these dishonest merchants, says Amos. Do not be like the crooked steward, says Jesus.
But at the same time that Jesus says, do not be like the crooked steward in the Gospel, Jesus also says: Be like the crooked steward.
It was not the steward’s deviousness that Jesus applauded, but his initiative and ingenuity. Caught in his misdeed, the crooked steward put into motion a plan to survive, to be welcome in new places after his job collapsed.
Jesus, in essence, says to his followers: pursue the kindom of God with as much enthusiasm as the crooked steward had for his own skin.
How do we practice the integrity the merchants in Amos lacked and rework the enthusiasm of the crooked steward to be enthusiasm for the kindom of God?
For one thing, we need to work at it. Such integrity and enthusiasm are not automatic. We study, learn and relearn, practice endlessly what it means to be a disciple of Christ at each stage of our life. We also let go of “working at” developing our enthusiasm for the things of God, and let God transform our enthusiasms.
After the death of the UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, in a plane crash over Africa in 1961, his collected reflections, published as Markings, carried this reflection which adds this God-initiated nuance to enthusiasm for the things of God:
I don’t know who —or what— put the question. I don’t know when it was put.
I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer YES to Someone or Something— and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and my life in self-surrender has a goal.
I came to a time and place where I realized that the Way leads to a triumph which is a catastrophe and a catastrophe which is a triumph…
After that the word “COURAGE” lost its meaning, since nothing could be taken from me.
Jesus wants us to be clear and public in living our faith, and personal in our love for the stranger and the alien. He looks for fire in the lives of all who believe in Him:
fire that will destroy indifference, consume inertia,
fire to impel us beyond ourselves,
fire by which to see the way,
fire by which to warm the world.
Then, who knows, with this new fire, we might even rival the merchants in Amos and the crooked steward in today’s Gospel.