TEXT: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 22, 2019

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 22, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Sometimes the words of Jesus in the Gospels

are very clear and understandable.

For example, last week we read the parable of the one lost sheep:

just reading it once you get the basic point.

 

But sometimes Jesus’ words can be very very confusing,

and today’s Gospel is a prime example.

First of all, Jesus tells the parable about a steward who

first squanders his Master’s property,

and then goes on to cheat him out of some more of his property,

but in the end

“the master commended that dishonest steward

for acting prudently.”

Then Jesus seems tell us to follow the dishonest steward’s example:

“make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,

so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

 

What are we supposed to make of this?

Is Jesus actually telling us to be dishonest?

 

Now, there are 2 key things necessary to understanding

the meaning of Jesus’ words today.

 

The first is to understand the use of this word “dishonest.”

Notice this word shows up 5 times in today’s Gospel:

“the dishonest steward”

“the person who is dishonest in …small matters

is also dishonest in great ones.”
and twice it mentions “dishonest wealth”

Unfortunately, this is a not the best translation of the word

that’s in the original Greek version of this text.

Usually it’s translated as “unjust” or “unrighteous.”

It’s the word used in Scripture to describe someone

who acts totally contrary to God’s will,

a person who has absolutely no love for God.

 

So we have not simply a “dishonest steward” but an “unrighteous steward”

–like someone who does not love God,

the steward shows his contempt for his Master

by squandering his property and cheating him.

 

Now look at the sentence:

“make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,

so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Let’s change “dishonest wealth” to “un-righteous wealth”

 

What does Jesus mean by “unrighteous wealth”?

Does He mean that all money is bad,

contrary to God’s will, or to the love of God?

No: if you give money to the poor, or you use it to help a sick person,

or to provide for your family’s needs,

money is a very good thing.

And money well-earned is also good thing.

 

Does He mean money that is gotten by dishonest or sinful means is bad?

Maybe.

 

But He seems to have something more in mind here.

Earlier I said there were 2 keys to understanding this passage.

Now comes the 2nd key,

which are the words Jesus uses to sum upHhis whole sermon:

“No servant can serve two masters.

He will either hate one and love the other,

or be devoted to one and despise the other.”

And then the conclusion: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

 

Now, the underlying Greek word translated earlier as “wealth”

—as in “unrighteous wealth”—

is actually the same word now translated as “Mammon”

–wealth and mammon, same word, same thing.

So what Jesus is saying is,

a man who loves worldly wealth (mammon) more than he loves God

winds up not loving God:

in other words, you become unrighteous.

So “unrighteous wealth” isn’t merely money that’s gotten by dishonest means,

but money that you love more than God Himself!

 

Worldly wealth—money, riches, property, etc.—isn’t in and of itself evil.

But when you love money as if it were God, then you have a big problem.

Because the first of the 10 Commandments is very clear:

I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me.”

And all the commandments are summarized

in what Jesus calls the “great commandment”:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart

and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

 

Now let’s return to our problematic sentences.

First:

“the master commended that unrighteous steward for acting prudently.”

Note, he commended him not for his unrighteousness,

but for his prudence, or wisdom or cleverness.

Then, again, he goes on:

“make friends for yourselves with unrighteous wealth,

so that when it fails,

you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

In other words,

“be clever

and take that stuff you love more that God

and use it for doing some good,

and maybe you can get into heaven.”

 

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

But we still have a problem:

this sounds an awful lot like buying your way into heaven.

Pretty clever, humanly speaking, if it were true.

 

But that’s not the kind of cleverness or wisdom Jesus is talking about.

So again, we return to the 2nd key:

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

This is the first principle of the wisdom Jesus wants us to use:

true wisdom places God, not the world,

at the beginning, center and end of all things.

 

So in this context, we see that when he says

“be clever

and take that stuff you love more that God

and use it for doing some good”

He’s not saying “buy your way into heaven,”

but rather

be wise with a wisdom rooted in the love of God,

and stop loving worldly things more than God,

and show that love of God by using those things

for doing some good!”

And then, when you love God more than things,

then, you can get into to heaven.

 

Now, that seems like a long way around to get to the meaning of the text.

It was.

Unfortunately, if you don’t go that way you get a lot of bad

—even dangerous—interpretations.

 

Some folks read this passage

and say it means simply “give to the poor.”

Okay, but what? and how? and why?

 

Some would say that it means it doesn’t matter how you get your money,

as long as you do good things with it—the ends justify the means.

Others would use it to justify dedicating their lives to the love of money,

and not worrying about loving God,

as long as they do some good things with the money.

Some also use it to say God wants us to be clever with money,

so that cleverness with money is used as proof of their love of God.

 

All this kind of thinking gets us into all sorts of trouble.

 

For example, throughout history of the Church various priests and bishops

—even popes—

allowed this kind of thinking to corrupt the life of the church.

For instance, the notorious cases where some priests and bishops

were actually trying to sell salvation,

either by accepting bribes to give sacramental absolution

to unrepentant kings and princes,

or by selling indulgences, contrary to the law and teaching of the Church.

 

In modern times we see a different but similar kind of corruption,

where priests tailor what they preach so as not to offend their parishioners,

even if it means editing out important truths of the Gospel,

because their afraid if they don’t

the Sunday collection will go down.

Sometimes we see bishops who are so afraid

of the Church losing her tax exempt status

or government funding for certain projects

they refuse to take hard stands to defend and uphold Catholic doctrine,

or to admonish erring Catholic public officials.

 

These men are very clever, and they are merely trying to

protect the finances of the Church

in order to be able to do good works.

But true wisdom is the mind of God, not the cleverness of the world.

Priest are called to be men of God, not men of business.

And serving God’s money is never more important than serving God.

 

And it happens, of course, to you too.

You work hard for your money, and all the stuff you have.

You are very clever and worldly wise.

And you do it all for a good and noble purpose:

for your family, to save so you won’t be a burden on others in your old age,

or to be able to afford to help others.

 

Or at least that’s how it begins, or what you tell yourself.

But sometimes people discover “helping their family”

has become little more than just keeping up with the Joneses.

Being able to afford to give their kids the very best like any loving parent should

becomes giving them whatever they want,

or whatever will bring the most status,

whether it’s truly best for them or not.

And as they give generously to charities,

they do it to see their name listed publicly as a benefactor

for all the world to see.

They give to those less fortunate, but they look down on them because of it.

 

In today’s difficult parable,

the steward is condemned for failing to serve—or love—his Master,

but commended for his worldly cleverness.

It took us a little cleverness to get past the confusing words and weak translation.

But while this cleverness was in part the wisdom of men,

in the end it took the fundamental wisdom of Christ

poured out in Holy Scripture

to teach us the true meaning of these words today.

As we continue now the celebration of this Holy Mass,

let us pray for this wisdom that begins and ends

with loving God above all things;

the foundational wisdom revealed by Christ today, that:

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

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