The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time||September 19, 2004|
We have heard this parable many times, and I'm sure every time we hear it, we wonder about it. It is one of the two parables, I think, that bothers us more than any of the others in the Gospels. The other one, of course, is the one about the person who hired people for different hours of the day and promised each one a just wage. Then at the end of the day, he gave the same amount to everyone, and those who worked all day were very angry; those who worked only an hour were pretty happy.
When we hear that parable it upsets us, but this one does too. Both of them seem to teach contrary to what Jesus would want to teach. In today's lesson, it sounds as though Jesus is saying, "It's OK to cheat. It's OK to be dishonest, as long as you find a way to save yourself." The first Christians must have had the same difficulty with this parable as you and I. Remember, the Gospels were not all written down at one time. The words and stories of Jesus were gathered over a period of time and by different communities. They wrote down what they remembered. So when this parable was written down in Luke's Gospel, the writers followed the story with some sayings attributed to Jesus that somehow seemed to help make sense of the parable. It is almost as if the Gospel writers were asking themselves, "What does he mean?" and then tried to explain.
Perhaps someone suggested, "Well, maybe he's just telling us, use your money, tainted though it be, to make friends for yourselves. If you have a lot of wealth, even if you got it dishonestly, use it to make friends for yourself."
Or someone could have said, "Maybe Jesus is trying to say something about how to become trusted. Those who can be trusted in small things can also be trusted in great things, but those who are dishonest in small things will also be dishonest in great things."
Then there is the famous saying, "You cannot serve two masters. You will love one and despise the other, so you can't serve God and money."
But you know, none of those sayings really explains the parable. They show attempts of people trying to understand what Jesus is teaching. The meaning, though, is actually pretty clear, because right after he tells the parable are these words: "The people of this world, the people of darkness, are more astute in dealing with their own kind then are the people of light." The people of darkness are more astute. They work harder; they find better ways to act, to get ahead with what they want and what they are trying to achieve. They are more astute than the people of light, the disciples.
Jesus is challenging us: "You are my disciples. I am the light of the world; therefore, you are the people of light and you are to be the light of the world. If you worked as hard as those who are the people of darkness, then the reign of God would happen."
That is what Jesus is trying to impress upon us. If only we used all of our talent, all of our energy, all of our resources with conviction, determination and persistence, we could change the world. The reign of God would happen. But we don't bring to this transformation of the world all of our energy, all of our skills, all of our determination.
This morning, then, this Gospel will motivate us to work for those things that need to be changed, and it is not hard to discover what needs to be changed.
The first lesson suggests to us very clearly one big area that needs change. Amos was talking about terrible injustices in his day. He deplored the fact that the rich were trampling the needy and doing away with the weak. They were in fact so determined that they could not wait for the feast days to end. "When will the new moon or the Sabbath feast be over?" they asked. "Then we can open our stores and sell our grain. We will lower the measure and raise the price." These are dishonest people and they are planning unjust ways to get ahead. They will sell the refuse with the whole grain -- contaminated goods, in other words. They say they will buy up the poor for money and the needy for a pair of sandals. They will exploit the poor, do whatever they want to them. That's what was happening in Amos' time.
The lesson of today's Gospel is that we have to become more determined to be children of the light. That will mean identifying injustices in our world.
We live in a world where it is not hard to discover extraordinary injustice. Look at the distortion in the distribution of the world's wealth: a few have so much and so many have so little. And it keeps getting worse. That is true within our own country and within the international order.
More than a quarter of a million children are exploited as child laborers, some as young as 3 and 4 years old. They will never have a chance to go to school or have a childhood, so that other people can be very rich.
Our nation pays huge subsidies to farmers, big farming corporations, really, so they can sell food on the world market. But that puts farmers in other countries off the land, leaving them to starve.
Injustice is all around us; it is not hard to discover. But what do we do about it? Are we really acting as children of light? Are we ready to do something to change what is going on in our world, or are we complacent? Maybe once in a while we share our excess with the poor, but we are not working to change things.
Look at the many examples we have of extraordinary violence and killing. What are we doing to bring peace to our violent world?
If we worked with as much astuteness and energy as Jesus suggests the children of darkness do, things would change. When I was reflecting on this, it occurred to me that one of the best commentaries on this comes from Pope John Paul II. As he was preparing to write his Peace Day message for Jan. 1, 2002, he reflected on the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. He wrote:
"We live in a world in which the power of evil" -- that is, the children of darkness -- "seems once again to have taken the upper hand. And so how will we, in fact, transform this situation into a world in which the noblest aspirations of the human heart will triumph? A world in which true peace will prevail."
He goes on, "Recent events, including the terrible killing on September 11, move me to return to a theme which often stirs in the depths of my heart. When I remember the events of history which have marked my life, especially my youth … enormous sufferings of peoples and individuals, even among my own friends and acquaintances, caused by Nazi and communist totalitarianism has never been far from my thoughts and prayers. I've often paused to reflect on the persistent question: How do we restore the moral and social order, subjected to such prolific violence?"
How do we really act as children of light, in a world where the power of evil seems to have the upper hand? He gives us an answer:
"My reasoned conviction, confirmed by the Gospel, by the word of God, is that the shattered order cannot be fully restored except by a response that combines justice with love. The pillars of true peace are the pillars of justice and the pillars of love, which has a special name of forgiveness. Love of enemy."
What John Paul is suggesting to us is that if we are to be children of light, and if we begin to use all of our energy, all of our wisdom, all of our determination, all of our resources, to build a pillar of justice in this world and to spread the message of enemy love and nonviolence, we can transform the world.
That is how you would build true peace. That is how you would become a child of the light. Jesus tells us this parable today to remind us that too often we become indifferent. Or maybe not quite indifferent; we are concerned, but we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by problems that seem too big. Whatever it is, we don't act with the fullness of the effort we could bring to bear.
Jesus said that the children of darkness do not become indifferent or overwhelmed by the challenges. Jesus said if you want be my followers, if you want to be the children of light, then begin to act in the ways of children of light.
To do that, maybe we have to start in our own homes: act with love and overcome vengeance and violence with those closest to us, really try to reach out in forgiving love.
We can also help to build a nation of justice by entering into the political process to change what's going on.
We can move step by step, but without losing focus and bringing to bear all of our energy, all of our wisdom, to really live as children of the light.
Let me give you one final thing to reflect on, something that might help energize us.
In last Sunday's lesson, we heard three parables. One was about the person who went after the one lost sheep and left the other 99. Another was about the woman who lost one coin and looking for it forgot about the rest of her wealth. The third was about the son who left home and squandered all his father's wealth and then came home. The parable we heard today follows these three.
We might think of this parable in the context of last Sunday's. The father seemed foolish to run out and welcome his son. But the son had finally come to his senses, and he had come back to ask forgiveness and make a speech to his father. Instead he was overwhelmed with the father's love.
Jesus made much the same point in today's parable. The owner acted foolishly toward the dishonest steward. The steward prepared a speech for the owner, but the owner just said, "Forget it." He acted out of total love. Maybe Jesus wants us to understand again that this is how God is toward us. We should not be measuring everything by obligation and trying to live according to strict rules of one kind or another. We have to open ourselves to the overwhelming goodness of God.
If we experience the love of God pouring forth upon us, maybe we will find the energy that we need to begin to be children of the light. As we conclude our reflections on this parable today, remember that it is also a parable about the overflowing, overwhelming, unlimited love of God for each of us.
Our experience of that will give us the energy to be children of the light, to change our world, to build pillars of justice and love that will bring peace to our world.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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