Reflection for Sunday – September 18, 2022
Readings: Amos 8:4-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13
Preacher: Deirdre McKiernan-Hetzler
The biblical concept of justice is central to our readings today. There, justice involves the external ordering of society. In ways that life is most able to thrive. Justice, reflected in the Law, requires special concern for the powerless: Widows. Orphans. The resident aliens. The needy. And especially, the poor.
God has conscripted Amos, a lowly shepherd, to preach judgment on Israel, because its sense of justice has been lost. Amos condemns practices that “trample the needy” and “ruin the poor.” He condemns people anxious for the end of the Sabbath— a day of rest for all— so they can return to cheating in their business dealings.
In the letter to Timothy, believers are urged to pray for society’s leaders— because leaders’ primary responsibility is to work for the common good, to ensure justice for all. They have the power to fight systemic injustice.
Today’s parable is arguably the most challenging parable in the Gospel. What might be God’s message about justice there?
Context can give clues in any understanding of Scripture passages.
Luke has situated this parable between two others. All involve money: The Prodigal Son and the Rich Man and Lazarus. In the former, the father values the returned son more than the money the kid squandered. In the latter, the rich man paid dearly for valuing his money more than his poor suffering neighbor.
In today’s parable, the wily steward is at it again! About to be sacked for squandering his master’s money. He’s now using it to ingratiate himself with the master’s debtors. And Jesus, in the person of the master, seems to be praising him! “For the children of this age are more shrewd…than the children of light.” What’s going on here?
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. He is asking his followers to be as savvy in the ways of God as others are in the ways of the world. He wants desperately for his followers to understand that commitment to him requires rearranging our views on everything. Including financial stewardship.
Recently, I read an inspiring example of this. A certain congregation on the west coast was considering air-conditioning their church. One member, Rick Steves, the travel guru, convinced them to reconsider. The project’s $50,000 quote, he said, would cool them for a handful of days each summer. Whereas those funds could provide running water for several poor villages elsewhere. For years.
Similarly, someone I know considered seriously buying a vacation home in her favorite getaway spot. Where she longs to spend quiet time. But the refugee crisis, poverty, climate issues, and world hunger also tug at her heart. After much reflection, she realized supporting solutions to those issues was better stewardship. An occasional visit to her favorite spot would have to suffice to provide the quiet moments she needed.
At the end of today’s gospel, Jesus warns, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon” (wealth).
Pope Francis makes a similar point in his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti.” He reflects on the solidarity that humanity could have created in facing our common vulnerability during the pandemic. Francis quotes St. John Chrysostom, one of the Fathers of the Church, about the need to share our
resources with the poor: “The riches we possess are not our own, but theirs as well.” Francis also cites St. 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.”
Rick Steves was right. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable. Or having money. But something is very wrong, for example, when the world’s greatest polluters contribute to climate conditions that devastate countries too poor even to have contributed to those conditions.
Amos invites us to look at our reality with eyes able to see how societal norms grant excess to some. And leave others to languish. Perhaps we need to take a hard look at our social systems. Where is biblical justice reflected? Where not? What does being God’s stewards ask of us? We have choices. Both as individuals and as a society. How will justice be reflected in our choices?