The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 18 September 2022
Lectionary Readings: Amos 8:4-7;Psalm 112:1-2,4-8;1 Timothy2:1-8;Luke 16:1-13
Theme: Justice and injustice.
Today we meet the prophet Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa, on the edge of the Judaean desert, near Bethlehem. He was probably the first of the prophets whose work was written down. Sent to the prosperous northern kingdom of Israel, he thunders against those practices that foster the exploitation of the poor peasantry by the expansionist policies of the rich upper classes: ‘Listen to this, you who trample on the needy and try to suppress the poor people of the country’. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how relevant is his insistence on social justice and the care of the needy in our own day.
This is echoed in Psalm 112, where God, whose care is, as ever, for the outcast and downtrodden: ‘From the dust he lifts up the lowly,/from the dungheap he raises the poor/.to set him in the company of princes’. The poor, says the psalmist, dwell not only in a lowly state, in the dust, but in a place where refuse is piled up, yet even from there God will raise them up.
Today’s gospel story in Luke of the unjust steward is one of the most enigmatic parables and seems to condone the very kind of wrong practice that Amos rants against. Shockingly, the parable concludes with the statement, ‘the master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness’. While praising the shrewdness of the children of this world, Jesus tells his disciples to ‘use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends’ and praises actions that are the direct opposite of those of the manipulating manager: ‘The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones’ and ‘No servant can serve two masters’, which is exactly what the manager succeeds in doing. As people struggle to explain the parable, what is often overlooked is the similarity between the parables of the unjust steward and the preceding one, the prodigal son, which we read last Sunday.
Both parables portray a person facing a life-threatening situation because the central character has ‘squandered’resources – the son, his father’s; the manager, his master’s. Each person caught in this situation utters a soliloquy and evolves a plan to extricate himself, with a rather self-serving motivation. In each case, the plans of the wastrels are not realized but are transcended by the surprising action of first the father and then the rich master. Both people caught in a dilemma think in terms of re-establishing a proper order of justice or obligation, and both receive unexpected acceptance and are rescued from danger by what they receive, not by what they accomplish. Today’s story might be called the parable of the Foolish Rich Man, who acts illogically, like the shepherd and the father of the parables of the lost sheep and the prodigal son, and thus evokes a world in which God does not exact punishment but, instead, cancels debts even in the midst of human machinations.
Today’s readings illustrate how our relationship with God is deeply intertwined with how we engage with the goods of this world. The Letter to Timothy, which shows a believing community, a generation after Paul, finding its way among the values of Hellenistic society, gives us an insight into the spirituality of the early church near the end of the first century. In these more settled circumstances, the community is reminded of the centrality of Christ’s sacrifice for them and of their need to make prayer a priority in their lives, as indeed, it was in the life of our beloved late Queen Elizabeth II, whose funeral it will be tomorrow. With our readings for today in mind, we might recall some of her wise words in her Christmas messages to us of previous years:
- “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive… It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord” (Christmas message, 2011).
- “At the heart of our faith stands not a preoccupation with our own welfare and comfort but the concepts of service and of sacrifice as shown in the life and teachings of the one who made himself nothing, taking the very form of a servant” (Christmas message, 2000).
May our late Queen Elizabeth II now rest in peace and rise in glory.
Bibliography: McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible (New York: 1965)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Margaret Shepherd NDS, England, Bat Kol Contributor.