18 September 2016: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Am 8:4-7 Ps 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8 1 Tm 2:1-8 Lk 16:1-13


Discipleship: trust God, use possessions

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask us to examine our attitudes about God and our use of God’s gifts.

In the first reading, the prophet Amos describes his fourth vision: God promises to destroy the northern kingdom (Israel) because the rich cheat the poor. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because the theme of defrauding correlates with the steward’s wrongdoing in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues the letter to Timothy. After Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon, the Jewish community prayed for their pagan rulers. Following that tradition, the Timothy author asks prayers for “kings and civil authorities” so that the Christian community may continue in a “quiet and tranquil life.”

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples a parable about a wily steward whom Jesus praises for his wisdom. While Jesus’ first century hearers easily understood the message, we twenty-first century hearers don’t get it. Here’s what we miss in the parable:

  • The characters. The parable has four actors: (1) A rich man who owns multiple tenant farms. (2) An unjust steward. (3) The debtors of the rich owner. (4) The community who brings the charge of “squandering the owner’s possessions” against the steward.
  • The set up. The community tells the owner that the steward has been cheating him. The owner calls the steward, fires him, and orders him to return the account books.
  • The steward’s actions: The steward is silent before the owner. Jesus’ audience would expect the steward to deny the charges and to negotiate with the owner. His silence implies he is guilty, and that he can’t manipulate the honorable owner. After some reflection, the steward comes up with a plan that will shame the owner and get the steward another job. While he still has the owner’s account books, the steward illegally and unjustly conspires with the debtors to change the books and bills. As co-conspirators and beneficiaries of the steward’s stealing, the debtors can’t report the steward’s cheating. The steward returns the account books to the owner, and the debtors return to the community, telling everyone about the kind steward who convinced the generous owner to reduce their debts.
  • The owner’s options and choice: The steward leaves the owner with only two options: (1) Tell the community that the debtors’ reductions were illegal and the debtors must pay in full. (2) Accept that he’s been duped, enjoy his increased status as a generous rich man, and let the steward go unpunished. He chooses the honorable second option, and praises the steward for acting “prudently” or wisely. The steward’s wisdom was in understanding the owner’s honor and relying on his characteristic mercy and generosity.

Today’s parable asks RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our relationship with God and possessions. Jesus applauds the steward’s trust in the owner’s honor and mercy. Like the steward, we trust that God treats us with mercy and generosity, no matter how we squander God’s gifts (possessions). Do we take God’s mercy for granted? Do we act as if possessions will save us? Have we convinced ourselves that our private actions have no communal consequences?

–Terence Sherlock

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