Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113: 1-2, 4-6, 7-8, 1Timothy 2:1-8, Luke 16:1-13
True to his prophetic call, Amos "speaks the truth to power" directly. He challenges those who make their businesses and profits the priority of their lives, even taking advantage of the poor. God's first priority, God's "preferential option" is always with the poor. It seems that the priority of wealth and power has become so commonplace in first world North America that we've gotten used to it. We are even quick to make excuses like: "It's my job!" or "I have to earn a living." I am not trying to judge here, nor should any of us judge another; for, Amos also says that it is God who will not forget the priorities we have set in our lives. It is God who knows us well, our motivations and priorities. How does our living reflect our chosen priorities?
In 1 Timothy, we are addressed as "Beloved." Indeed, we are all "beloved of God." As such, Paul reminds us to pray for all in authority, for all who bear responsibility for others. He must have experienced the need of prayer for himself in his mission as preacher and apostle. By Baptism, we are all called to share in the mission of Christ. On this Sunday, maybe we should give some thought to what our particular mission is - to whom, for what are we sent, with our particular gifts? Can we rely on the prayers of the community of faith to support us? To paraphrase the last line of this reading: ". . .in every place, we should pray, lifting up holy hands - without anger or argument." In this reading, prayer is a priority. For whom, for what do we pray?
What are we to make of this confusing Gospel? It may be important to remember that every parable has a "gotcha!" And, if we haven't gotten the "gotcha" we haven't gotten the meaning of the parable. There is certainly confusion in the dishonesty of the steward in the parable who is then commended by the master for being prudent. All of us join in one great response of "WHAT???" (Not unlike our response to the master who pays the workers in the vineyard the same amount for different periods of work.)
In our parable today, the master places greater emphasis on prudence than on dishonesty. He doesn't condone dishonesty, but does affirm the prudence of the steward. Prudence is not a word in common usage today. One definition is: "prudence is careful good judgment that allows someone to avoid danger or risks." Thus, the servant did indeed exercise prudence. In saving himself, he also saved those who had been indebted.
We might suspect that these indebted ones were among the poor, and the prudent action of the dishonest steward was a great gift to them, in the name of the master. Such action also endears the master to those who had been indebted. The end does not justify the means; but there is certainly more to ponder here than a simple reading/hearing of the parable. God's ways are not our ways, and the admonition of the master in the parable is both confusing and challenging to us. What is the priority of the master? What is God's priority? What are ours?
As the word Gospel means "good news," for whom is this message good news? Within the parable, there is good news for the master, the dishonest steward and for those who had been indebted. For whom might this message be good news today?
Prudence is an important virtue in the Christian life; may it be part of all of our discerning and decision-making. The evaluation of the steward in the parable? Dishonest, yes; but even more importantly, prudent.