25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Sept. 18 (Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13)
Exploitation, injustice and corruption are as familiar as the sunrise and sunset. There are many similarities between eighth century B.C. Israel — the time of the prophet Amos — and our own world. Amos pulled no punches in his public utterances against the establishment. Looming over them was the threat of the violent and rapacious Assyrian Empire. Amos sought to call Israel back to the path of justice and righteousness — in other words, the way of God — before it was too late. Interestingly, he did not touch on what we might call “religious” practices, such as ritual, liturgy and sacrifice. Instead, he described familiar patterns of human behaviour: dishonest business dealings, as well as brutal and greedy tactics that crushed people and enslaved the poor.
The spiritual health of the nation was always measured in terms of justice. God was most often outraged over injustice and the mistreatment of the weak and vulnerable. Amos ended with an ominous warning: God knows all about your crooked dealings and will not forget. Hiding behind false piety was not an option.
Looking ahead in the Bible, we discover that the warning was not heeded. In 722 B.C., the Assyrian juggernaut rolled over the Northern Kingdom of Israel and it ceased to exist. But it’s not just about Israel — it is addressed to our own time too. We have an economic system that services the greed and well-being of a small portion of humanity. So many people are crushed beneath a system whose only god is unlimited profit. If that were not enough, we have been treated to the spectacle of corporate corruption — raided pension funds, huge bonuses for officers while others are laid off, and bankruptcies that wipe out the life savings of many. Meanwhile, people sink deeper into debt or find themselves unemployed — the modern form of buying and selling the poor.
Add to that the ecological damage that accompanies such a system and it becomes clear that we need Amos’ message. Actually, there are many like Amos that have been warning us but to little avail. Mocking or ignoring the justice of God always ends badly for everyone. It’s not too late to get it right, but it will require a huge change of mind and heart on the part of many.
The author of 1 Timothy prayed for a quiet and peaceable life for believers. He offered up prayers for all those in positions of power and authority. Was he a supporter of the status quo? Hardly — he prayed for this so that the faith could be spread without hindrance. A quiet and peaceable life is fine up to a point, but should not be a call to self-absorption, passivity or a lack of concern for the needs of the world.
Speaking of corrupt business practices, Jesus used one such individual as the main character in a parable. He took an example from the everyday lives of the people at the time, and they would have been quite familiar with corruption. A business manager for a huge estate was caught embezzling from his boss and squandering his wealth. The boss was going to toss him, so the crooked manager was in an absolute panic. He had no marketable skills and knew that he would not find work. Since he was a crafty and enterprising crook, he called in his master’s debtors and engaged in some very creative and shady bookkeeping. He “cooked the books” so that the debtors owed far less than they had previously, probably much to their delight. He reasoned that after he was fired, they would be grateful in concrete ways.
Rather than being outraged, the master praised his shrewdness. Jesus then observed that people of this world, like the manager, were often much more on the ball when it came to using resources wisely and dealing with others than many dreamy-eyed “children of the light.” Jesus concluded with a warning about serving two masters.
Everyone should decide today what they stand for and whom they serve. Not only that, the followers of the Lord should use their wealth and resources to “make friends” for eternity. Wealth and resources are never given just for ourselves, but to be shared.
Today’s decisions and actions have consequences for the future of our world and for each of us in eternity