Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In my long years of ministry I have occasionally heard it said that one of the things Christians do not like to hear spoken of from the pulpit of their church is money or riches. For what it is worth, my sense is that most pastors or ministers themselves do not like to speak about money or riches from the pulpit. None-the-less, if the pulpit is the place from which scripture is proclaimed, we have a ready-made example of some speakers in our past history who have spoken boldly about this subject.
If we can assume that the words of scripture are meant not only for the assembly but for the preacher as well, I must admit that there are some passages that make me a little nervous when I read them. Indeed, that happens to be true on this Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The first preacher is Amos, the prophet. When you hear his words you may want to say: “I hope he never comes to our pulpit!” Amos seemingly knew full well the scandalous mercantile practices that were current in his time: “When will the Sabbath end, so that we can go back to selling our grain?” “Let us sell the chaff of the wheat for whatever it is worth; let us adjust the scales to increase the price of our produce.” To that scandalous practice, Ammos declares: “You are buying the poor person for the price of a pair of sandals. You take advantage of those who have no control of the prices of the produce they need to live on.” Isn’t it odd that economics has changed so little over the centuries?
In Luke’s gospel we hear Jesus’ story of a steward who cheated the owner of the land by cutting prices, all in order to curry favor with his friends. Oddly, Jesus praises the steward for his worldly cleverness to make friends. Some day, however, such practices will catch up on you and you will end up being the loser anyway.
The lesson that arises in both these scriptures is the issue of control, money and power, problems that are so clearly evident in the politics and business of our country today.
But even among those of us who steer clear of the money and power issues, we may still occasionally ask ourselves how we esteem what we personally own: money, automobiles, home(s), clothing, insurance policies, position and name in the community et cetera. Most of us would probably say that these things do not own us, but it is still worthwhile to ask if they have some influence over the way we see ourselves in the world today.
Here is a quote from Saint Basil the Great, 3rd century bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, which could easily provide some thought if preached from American pulpits today:
“When someone steals another’s clothes we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs go the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”
I have never actually used that quote of Saint Basil in a homily, but now I am beginning to wonder why. Perhaps I am afraid that it may reflect badly on my own life. The great power of scripture is that it makes the preacher and the assembly think once again about life in Twenty First Century America. If we are made to blush a little, well perhaps the word of God has had its way.
1 Timothy 2: 1-8
Luke 16: 1-13