“No servant can serve two masters…. You cannot serve both God and mammon.” These words of Jesus contain two fundamental truths on which our lives as disciples are built. One is that we are properly identified as servants; the other is that we can only truly serve one master. With these truths in mind, we can reflect on whether or not we are using our resources properly, in our service of the Lord and of his people.
Since we are servants, not masters, we do not ultimately own what we possess. All our money and possessions have been entrusted to us by the Lord. He has a right to expect that we will use them for his purposes. In the end he will call us to account for what we have done. It is easy for us to forget this, and to begin to use what we have for ourselves alone. This temptation is greater for those who have more.
The prophet Amos gives a stern warning to the rich of his day who are using their power to take advantage of the poor. Instead of practicing justice in their business dealings and providing for the needy, they are willing to do anything to increase their profits – including abuse human rights and violate religious obligations. In other words, they offend against both love of God and love of neighbor.
This vigorous prophecy applies very clearly to our own times, in which, despite the many advances in society and technology, the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. The root of the problem lies not so much in the various economic policies and business strategies as in the hearts of those who control them. The rich are ever ready to exploit the natural resources of the poor without concern for their personal welfare, and to demand maximum production from their workers for minimum wages – in other words, to “trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!” They do not care who they trample on to get to the top of the golden heap. This kind of social injustice provokes the wrath of God, who “hears the cry of the poor” (cf. Ex 22:22). When the Lord says, “Never will I forget a thing they have done!”, he is telling us that there are severe consequences for our mistreatment of any of our poor brothers and sisters. He takes the side of the poor against those who oppress them. The Lord’s intention is to raise up the poor and humble the rich.
Most of us tend to think that sins against the poor are only committed by others – by multinational corporations, by rich and corrupt businessmen, by unjust governments, etc. However, we should not be too quick to declare ourselves innocent. We may not be engaged in buying a poor man “for a pair of sandals,” but we are quite capable of thinking that our pair of sandals is more valuable to us than the rights of a poor man. When we come before the judgment seat of God, we will not be evaluated on how well we identified the sins of others, but on our own choices.
Today’s Gospel parable invites us to examine ourselves in light of the behavior of a “dishonest steward.” How does our use of “dishonest wealth” look in the eyes of the Lord? The clever steward in the parable comes up with a way to provide for his future after he is dismissed from his job. His method is to steal more for himself from his master by altering the invoices of his master’s debtors. In this way he gains a profit as well as the favor of the debtors. It is blatant corruption, hardly praiseworthy behavior, but the master commends him for “acting prudently”!
The message to us is summed up in Jesus’ words: “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” In other words, the parable is not teaching us about how to manipulate expense accounts, but about how to be more prudent in preparing for what is to come. Our future is not simply a matter of ensuring a secure and comfortable retirement. We are meant for eternal life, and the way to enter eternal life is not with our own money or merits – for we have nothing of our own – but with the wealth of grace that we receive from God.
Since we will face final judgement and will have to give an account of our stewardship, it is prudent to rely on the generosity and mercy of our Master to ensure our future well-being. This is what the so-called “good thief” who was crucified with Jesus did. He knew he was a hopeless wretch and that only the crucified Lord could save him, so in a profound spirit of contrition and faith he pleaded: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” (Lk 23:43). The Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen, with his characteristic insight and sense of humor, said that the thief died as he lived. He lived his life as a thief, and he died a thief, “for he stole paradise”!
We, on the other hand, do very little to prepare for our eternal future. Our worldly neighbors put us to shame with the energy, creativity, and enthusiasm with which they pursue their goals. People sacrifice their evenings and weekends to study for a higher degree, but we have “no time for prayer”? People develop new products and new markets to make more money, but we have no interest in improving our spiritual life and our service of the needy?
Jesus points out that in this life, we have been entrusted with “what belongs to another.” The “another” is God, and what belongs to him is all the gifts, physical and spiritual, that he has given to us – loaned to us – in this world. In the next life, what we will be given will be “what is ours.” That is, what we will possess will remain always with us – not material possessions, but the unimaginable spiritual riches of union with God himself.
The second reading gives us an insight into the context in which we serve our “one Master.” While we live in the world, we are also submitted to “kings and all in authority.” One of our duties as Christian citizens is to pray for them, for when they serve well, everyone benefits, and we can all better pursue “a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” We are very far from this ideal in our times. Therefore, we have an even greater responsibility to pray for our government leaders. This kind of prayer “is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” Indeed, prayer is part of our work as servants of God and stewards of his mysteries. By our prayer, we submit ourselves and all people to the care of our one Master, who “raises up the lowly,” that is, he raises up all who depend on him in faith.
How am I using the gifts that God has given me? In what ways do I take advantage of others, especially the poor? When do I act as a master and not a servant of others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.