Monday, September 30, 2013

Make Friends with Dishonest Wealth

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2013

What a fascinating parable Christ tells in the Gospel today, one that certainly causes us to think.  Certainly Christ is not recommending that we steal from our employers or that we be dishonest, right?  So what are we to learn from this parable?

There are two lessons that I would like to focus on today.

The first has to do with our identity.  In the parable, the Master represents God and our relationship to him is compared to that of being stewards.  And this understanding of the human person, of our identity and situation in this world is already a teaching in and of itself.  Because we live in a world that is constantly trying to tell us that we are the masters, don’t we?  Because our world is fallen, our wealth and blessings, which of course are really not of our own creation, often masquerade as if they were.  And I think this is why Christ calls worldly wealth ‘dishonest.’  It is as if someone came in and took all the little ‘made in heaven’ stickers off the things of this world and instead replaced them with new, fraudulent ‘made by you’ stickers.  How easy it is, as individuals, as families, as communities, even as a country, to begin to think that we are responsible for creating our own earthly wealth, to think that we are self-made men and women.  Particularly in our time, when we have so much wealth, when we are so prosperous – it is so easy to forget our dependence upon God for all that we have.  Reminds me of the rich man from another parable that Christ told, who was very successful and built those new big barns to house all his wealth before settling back and saying to himself “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”

I’m not sure if you recall what God said to him.  “You fool.”  That’s a direct quote.  “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”  You fool: you were taken in by dishonest wealth, it got the best of you, it fooled you into thinking you were the master, that it was your permanent possession.

No, Christ teaches us: we are stewards, stewards of wealth that is not our own, that is temporary, that is on loan to us.  All the blessings that we receive and live in this world are given to us by God.  He gives us the natural world to take care of and cultivate and through our work to create things that are good and beautiful.  But these things, this world, is entrusted to us as a stewardship, not as a possession.  Everything is son loan.  Temporary.  Even our own lives.

So this is the first lesson: that of our identity: we are stewards indebted to a master.  But the parable doesn’t end there.  The second lesson has to do with how God expects us to carry out the stewardship that has been entrusted to us.

And I find this to be the really interesting part of this parable.  Because in many places, when speaking of riches or earthly wealth, Christ told his disciples “Go, sell your possessions, give the money to the poor, then come follow me.”  His guidance in many cases was to be as detached as possible from dishonest wealth so that it would not distract from proclaiming the kingdom. 

This is clearly the guidance that many Christians are called to follow, the radical embrace of poverty that points to the kingdom of God and frees us from any snares or traps involving earthly wealth.  From the first days up until now the Church has raised up men and women who have taken a vow to live this kind of poverty as a witness to the treasures of heaven.  You probably know men and women religious who don’t own a thing.  The clothing that they wear, the car they drive, everything down to their toothbrushes is owned by their community, is owned in common. 

But this kind of radical poverty is not possible for most of us, and most of us have not been called to live this evangelical counsel of poverty in such an intense and beautiful way.  And that is why this parable seems to apply in a particular way to us.  Listen to what our Lord says about what a good steward does with the dishonest wealth entrusted to him: “Make for yourselves friends with dishonest wealth.”

And this is a beautiful thought and description of the purpose of earthly treasure, isn’t it?  How many times we hear such a different message: that earthly wealth is given to us to make us successful, to make us more comfortable, to help us be more financially secure, to give us opportunities.  That being a good steward of earthly wealth basically means that we are careful not to compromise our financial security, or the financial security of our families. 

But Christ shows us the absurdity of this idea.  Security, he shows us, is not something that we can aquire with wealth.  At the end of our lives it does not matter how much we make, how much we set aside: we will not be able to afford the ticket for heaven.  Heaven cannot be purchased with dishonest money.  The currency of heaven is love. 

And so the wise steward uses dishonest wealth in service of the currency of heaven.  He uses his time and treasure in the service of friendship: friendship with his or her spouse, with children, with parents, with neighbors and friends, coworkers and members of the parish, with the poor and the needy.  Prudent stewardship in this world places all dishonest, all earthly wealth, in the service of God and neighbor. 

At the conclusion of a Catholic wedding there is a beautiful blessing for the newly married couple beginning their stewardship together, and it is my prayer for all of you today:  “May you always bear witness to the love of God in this world so that the afflicted and the needy will find in you generous friends, and welcome you into the joys of heaven.  Amen.”

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