Homily – Deacon Tony Bellitto
Sun., Sep. 22, 2019
Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading – Amos 8:4-7
Second Reading – 1 Timothy 2:1-8
Gospel – Luke 16:1-13
A lot of people really don’t like this Gospel reading. On the surface, it appears that Jesus is praising dishonesty, and they can’t get past that. But he is not. We have to dig below the surface to get at the root of the real meaning of this message. So let me try it this way, and you decide if it makes sense.
I have learned a lot from my grandchildren. I have three grandsons, all under two years old. The youngest is only four months. As many of you know who are parents and grandparents, newborns and very small children who cannot yet talk or walk have their own way of communicating what they need. Sometimes they want to be fed; sometimes they need their diaper changed; and sometimes, many times, they just want to be held and rocked in the secure arms of a loving adult. They have a certain way they cry out for each of those needs – one type of cry that says “feed me;” a different cry that says “change me;” and a different cry that says “hold me.”
We know this, and somehow they know this too. We human beings, from the moment we are born, are innately transactional in the way we interact with others. Before we can talk or even reason, we know how to get what we need by some form of negotiation.
So is the parent training the child, or is the child training the parent?
I am amused to think what the conversation might be like between a few such small children in daycare. Little Johnny might say to his little friend – “So, how’s it working out for you? Are your parents getting the hang of this yet?” His friend might answer, “Well, yeah, they’re picking it up. Although my Dad’s a little slow getting me my bottle of milk if he’s watching football, but he’s coming along. I just cry a little louder, and that gets him moving. You know how it is with first-time parents.”
So the point is that we know from the youngest age how to get what we need. We figure it out.
As a human species, we have figured out many things. We’ve figured out how to make our homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We’ve figured out how to communicate across long distances with a handheld electronic device. We’ve figured out how to fly around the world in just a few hours. We figure out whatever we have to do to secure for ourselves the earthly benefits that we need.
Something similar is being described in our Gospel reading today. The steward who has been told by his boss that he will be losing his job because of mismanagement of his affairs, has figured out how to secure an opportunity for a new job by doing a favor to those who were indebted to his boss. Those who had their debt reduced would, in turn, be grateful to him and would be inclined to return the favor in the future. That’s what the steward was banking on. Those who had their debt reduced might hire him in a new job, or might at least get him an interview with their Uncle Sol’s jewelry business, for example.
We are surprised to see that the steward’s boss actually praises his employee after he’s already decided to fire him. He is not praising his dishonesty, but rather he commends his clever way of thinking, his resourcefulness, and his willingness to think outside the box and to make the effort to figure out how to get what he needs – in this case, new employment so that he won’t become homeless. The steward is not proud of his past actions, because it was, after all, his dishonesty in prior business dealings that got him fired in the first place. So dishonesty is clearly being condemned here, as it was also condemned by the prophet Amos in the first reading. But rather the steward is now focused on making his future better, and that is what is being praised here. He is planning ahead to avoid personal disaster. Although his method is questionable, it is at its core, transactional, and that’s the way all humans innately behave when we are motivated to get what we need.
Jesus is pointing out here that if people in this world go to extreme measures, even stealing, to provide for themselves in the future, then how much more should his followers also go to extreme measures to prepare for their eternal future. We all make monetary investments now to provide for our future needs later in this life, but we should also be making spiritual investments now to secure for ourselves a place in the eternal life. In a striking way, Jesus wants his followers to act prudently – to be wiser with the spiritual wealth entrusted to them, than sinners are with their material wealth. This also requires resourcefulness, and foresight, and a willingness to make an extra effort.
The point is that it’s far better to place a priority on God, on faith, on worship, and on helping others in need, more so than on the material things of this world – like money, possessions, and career – which will not last. You will never see a U-Haul trailer being pulled behind a hearse in a funeral procession. All your possessions are left behind when you die. Everything we possess in this world does not really belong to us anyway. We only use it for a time. We’re basically all stewards of the one true master, who is God.
As Jesus says here, you cannot worship both God and mammon, which is money. Earthly benefits that can be secured with money cannot compare to heavenly benefits that can be secured by having a relationship with God and participating in the faith life of the Church.
The Church offers us a way to fulfill our spiritual needs, but it requires our active participation.
Remember the grandchild who cries out “feed me,” or “change me,” or “hold me.” In a similar way, as adults we do the same – our hearts need to be fed, to be changed, and to be held.
When the Mass is offered, when we come and participate and receive the Eucharist, as we all are doing here today, then we receive the benefit of God’s offer to feed us with his body and blood.
When the Sacrament of Confession is offered, when we come and participate and receive the forgiveness and the absolution from our sins, then we receive the benefit of God’s offer to change us with his healing power.
When the Church teaches us true doctrine to guide us, when we accept that teaching and reject our selfish desire to live a different way, apart from that teaching, then we receive the benefit of God’s offer to hold us in the palm of his hand with his truth.
When we grow out of childhood and into adulthood, we are no longer dependent on our parents to meet our every need. We become self-reliant and independent, which is good. But the danger in that, in the supernatural realm, is that we mistakenly think we don’t need to rely on God or his Church anymore. That kind of self-reliance and independence is not good.
But if we know innately, even from birth, how to get what we need in this life, how much more will eternal rewards await us when we do what God wants us to do, to get what he knows we need in the next life.
And so, my brothers and sisters, here is yet again another story from the many in Luke’s Gospel that puts a twist on what we would expect to hear. It’s God again surprising us to grab our attention. He is pointing us toward what matters most. He wants to bless us with his extravagant generosity and abundance. He wants to cancel our debts and lavish real treasure upon us, which cannot compare with the treasures of this world. He wants to lead us into a new and better life, even in the midst of our human failings. How fortunate we are to have a God who loves us that much.
May God bless you all.