First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all —this was attested at the right time.
For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Hearing the Word
“Securing a Bright Future”
Concern about the future is a regular and reoccurring feature of daily life. Today’s liturgy acknowledges the importance of this daily concern, but puts it in a larger framework of life that begins in this world and continues into eternity.
The Prophet Amos delivered his message to the kingdom of Israel at a time of great prosperity and success, which was the last such period in Israel’s history. Before the final collapse in 722 B.C. Israel was a strong and prosperous nation. However, beneath this prosperity lay a grim reality of severe economic inequality and oppression. The lower classes of society, particularly the farmers, were ruthlessly exploited by the wealthy landowners and the aristocracy. Amos spoke to these oppressors charging them with “bringing to ruin the poor of the land”. The prophet also pointed out their religious hypocrisy stating that they eagerly waited for “the new moon and the Sabbath [to] be over”. Israelites observed the beginning of a new lunar month and the sabbath day as feasts when all work and trading were forbidden. The oppressors, while fulfilling religious commandments, were busy planning for the immediate future, and their intentions were malicious. They were devising ways to make even more money by inflating food prices and selling the poor into slavery.
Amos denounces their plans, and their way of life in general, as a direct violation of the law of Moses. This law categorically demanded social justice and identified care for the vulnerable and the needy as an essential trait of a pious and faithful Israelite (cf. Deut 10:14-22; 24:19-21). The ruling class and the wealthy aristocrats in Israel were quietly ignoring and blatantly violating these demands. Amos declared that such violations of God’s law will inevitably lead to the destruction of the nation. His prophecies came true. Soon after his prophetic mission ended, the period of prosperity in Israel ended abruptly and the Assyrian invasion erased Israel from history.
Amos’ message to the wealthy oppressors shows the folly of their reasoning and actions. They sought to live a comfortable life and secure their future at the cost of disrupting or destroying the life of their fellow Israelites. Doing so, they were violating God’s law which was given precisely for the reason of securing the wellbeing and prosperous future for all Israelites. Believing that they are securing their future, they were actually destroying it for themselves and for their children. The future of the Israelite community depended on maintaining a stable and harmonious community founded on God’s law. The ruling elite ignored this fundamental truth and, by doing so, brought destruction upon the entire community.
In its early days, the Christian movement was looked upon with suspicion. Because of their distinctive way of life, and belief in the crucified Messiah, many, including the Roman authorities, saw Christianity as a dangerous sect, disrupting society and threatening its future. To correct these false perceptions, Paul and other Christian writers made every effort to show that Christians were peaceful and law-abiding citizens of the Roman Empire, concerned with the welfare of the whole of society. For this reason, the author of 1 Timothy exhorts believers to pray for everyone, particularly for the civil authorities, who were responsible for maintaining good order and harmony. Christians were not troublemakers; they were good citizens.
The author wants the Christians to show their good character by offering prayers for the salvation of all people. God wants all people to be saved. Jesus, God’s son, became the mediator between the Saviour God and humanity. In accordance with God’s desire, Jesus made this salvation possible by his self-sacrifice. Thus, non-Christians have nothing to fear from believers. They serve and worship the saving, not destructive, God.
The author testifies to this saving work of God and asks believers to pray for salvation of all, without anger or resentment. Their prayer and harmonious conduct are to serve as public testimony to the saving plans of their God. Such testimony and good relationship with non-Christians would secure their future in the present life. Ultimately, believers may help non-believers to secure salvation by giving them the opportunity to join this new Christian movement.
The Gospel passage contains arguably the most puzzling story in the Bible known as “the parable of the dishonest servant”. This parable appears to recommend dishonesty and cheating as acceptable means of securing one’s future. However, such interpretation is far from accurate. This parable uses the technique of shocking the reader to increase the impact of its intended message. In this story, the corrupt manager continues to cheat his master even after he was discovered and dismissed. The shock comes when the master, instead of condemning and punishing the corrupt manager for his persistent and unrepentant cheating, praises him! The message of the story lies not in the actions of the servant but in his reasoning. The master does not approve or praise his behavior, but his ability to turn his failure to his advantage. The lesson of the parable lies in identifying the approach believers ought to employ when dealing with wealth.
In the Gospel of Luke, money and wealth in general are identified as one of chief threats to faith and discipleship. Telling this parable, Jesus teaches his hearers how to use this dangerous, “dishonest” wealth, to the believer’s advantage. The way to do this is to “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth”. For Jesus, wealth is destructive when it leads to greed and isolation. However, wealth can also be beneficial when used for sharing and service. Such use strengthens good relationships among people, while greed destroys them. Since dealing with wealth and money is an unavoidable part of human existence in this world, Jesus calls his followers to learn from the cheating manager. The lesson lies not in the exact imitation of his behavior but in his method of using potentially dangerous wealth to his advantage.
Jesus emphasizes that the use of wealth matters. Those faithful in “little things” show themselves capable of handling “greater things”. Using money correctly and not being controlled by it, testifies to the ability to choose and serve one’s master and being faithful. Thus, every person must make a fundamental choice – either to subordinate everything to the quest for serving God and then reap the benefits of eternal life, or to focus on pursuit of wealth and lose it all in the end.
Today’s liturgy teaches that securing a bright long-term future begins with attention to economic justice, social harmony, and the right use of wealth. The Prophet Amos showed that seeking wealth at the expense of others brings disasters upon everyone. The author of 1 Timothy called Christians to be exemplary citizens and to be concerned about the salvation of all as means to secure their own future. Jesus teaches that the believer must not be trapped by the lure of material wealth but use it as an instrument for building good relationships in view of securing an eternal future. Thus, securing an eternal future begins on earth with the right use of wealth, because, as the Psalmist stated, “Who is like the Lordour God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?”
Listening to the Word of God
Concern for the future is perhaps the first thing on our minds when we wake up in the morning, often taking shape of a worry or even anxiety. What are we going to do today? How can we complete our tasks? Where will the money for the rent come from? Worry is our unwanted companion at almost every step we take through life. Perhaps it belongs to our nature to worry.
This concern about the future can be dangerous because it can transform itself into excessive worrying, which in turn leads to anxiety. When we worry, we focus entirely on what we worry about. We become fixated, and the object of our worry claims all our attention. It dominates us and, in many ways, enslaves us. In some sense, what we worry about assumes in our mind and heart the place that rightfully belongs to God alone. For this reason, Jesus repeatedly warned his disciples about the danger of anxiety. In the Gospels, worry is found among the three chief dangers to discipleship, next to hypocrisy and greed.
On the other hand, when correctly channeled, concern for the future can be very positive. Success in life, personal, professional and Christian, is not a matter of luck but of careful thinking, preparation and planning. The shrewd servant in today’s parable planned for his future, although in a deceitful way. By his negative example we are admonished not to leave our future to chance. There is a song by a little known rock group whose title is, “How did I find myself here”. A line from the lyrics refers to the story of the prodigal son. It says, “a prodigal son who could not go on, asked, how did I find myself here?” We can imagine here this young man sitting among pigs and wondering what has gone wrong with his life. The answer is that his desire for wealth and its subsequent misuse destroyed him. The lesson is that one who lives a life without thinking about the future and far reaching planning runs a high risk of going astray and finding himself or herself in a place they never intended or wanted to be. Jesus wants to protect us from such fate, and he asks for a careful consideration of what we are doing, and where we are going.
Some Christians are prone to say that, since they are entirely in God’s hands, they need not take their life into their own hands. Certainly, our lives are in God’s hands, but planning for the future is God’s will for us. He has given us guidance through the teaching of Jesus and free will to shape ourselves as we choose. God wills us to be active collaborators who respond to him as willing partners in the project of our salvation, not passive puppets. By careful and purposeful planning of our life in accordance with the guidelines God laid down for in the Scripture and in our tradition, we become God’s partners in the project of our salvation and the salvation of the world.
Ultimately, all our plans and designs must take death and eternal life into consideration. These two are like a far distant horizon which we inescapably approach, step by step, day by day. Jesus admonishes us today to use all the means and goods of this world to ensure that when we reach that horizon, we will be ready to face God. Without careful preparation for that moment we might, like the prodigal son, be asking ourselves in helpless desperation – “when and how did I get here?”
“If you wish to move mountains tomorrow, you must start lifting stones today.”
What is my greatest worry? Do I allow it to dominate my life?
Do I bring anxiety and fear to others by my inconsiderate behaviour and words?
Response to God
I will thank the Lord daily for the gift of free will and knowledge of himself and his ways. I will pray for the ability to give direction to my life and pursue my goals and happiness in agreement with his will.
Response to your World
This week I will carefully plan each of my days and leave little to chance. My plans will be determined by the lessons I learned from the parable of the dishonest servant.
At this point in the year we look back and recall the plans we have made for our group activities. Have we been able to accomplish them? What remains for us to do and how can we complete our agenda for the year?
Lord, God of the universe. Our world reflects your careful and orderly design. You put into action the plan for the salvation of humankind through your Son Jesus. Send your Holy Spirit upon me because I desire to be your servant and partner in bringing this plan to completion, so that all people may come to enjoy the bright future you prepared for them. Amen.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.