Sunday Gospel Reflection for 25th Sunday of the Year September 18th Written by Fr Brian Maher OMI
‘Multi-tasking’ was a buzz word a number of years ago. It became for a while a kind of badge of honour for the young. They could multi-task and the rest of the population were stuck in a single-track brain function which, the young claimed, made life exceedingly dull and boring.
Teenagers swore they could study, text friends, check Facebook, listen to music and keep an eye on television, all at the same time. That is, they swore it until school test results came along, and then, reluctantly, they admitted that maybe they needed to drop one of them!
It would be easy to see today’s Gospel as Jesus categorically saying that multi-tasking is not possible. “You cannot be a slave of two masters” it says, “stay on a single track and you will be safe.”
It would also be easy to let today’s Gospel trap us into that, so dangerous, binary thinking that there is only absolute right and absolute wrong. It is either “God or wealth” with no middle ground, no compromise, no possibility of two goods existing in tension with one another.
The truth is that this Gospel is about neither of these things.
If you want a perfect insight into what the Gospel is actually about, then read the First Reading from the prophet Amos (8:4-7) – swindling, trampling on the needy, tampering with the scales, dishonest practises, racketeering – these are the things Jesus has in mind when he talks about the “rich man” in the parable. Isn’t it interesting that the steward, to save his own skin, is acting dishonestly in writing off part of the money owed to the ‘rich man’ by his debtors in order to ingratiate himself with them. And isn’t it even more interesting that the ‘rich man’ then applauds and congratulates the steward on his dishonesty! Neither the ‘rich man’ or the steward are honest. Both have lost sight of the good, the right, the honest way of living.
In many of Jesus’ parables the ‘Master’ or the central protagonist of the story can be interpreted as representing God. It would be very dangerous to do that here! If we did, then every Mafia Don and criminal racketeer would be welcomed with open arms by God and applauded for their astuteness.
Yes, the steward is astute in securing his own future wealth, but he is still dishonest. He is still wrong. And Yes, the master applauds him for this astuteness, because the master is also dishonest, and blind to what is right and good.
These are the people Jesus describes in the Gospel as “the children of this world” and if we allow ourselves to become one of them then what is dishonest becomes honest; denying civil rights becomes necessary to secure order, and anybody who disagrees with my view of the world is spreading ‘fake news’ and must be stopped.
Let me give a possible example: Our Governments roundly condemn countries known to carry out torture and other civil rights abuses. But when one of those countries also exports oil or other necessary commodities to us, that condemnation is either toned down or conveniently forgotten. And we, the populations of these countries, silently collude with the dishonesty of what is done, conveniently forgetting that while we enjoy the benefits of the oil, men and women – fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children – rot in prisons in these countries.
Maybe that’s too harsh or maybe not. We each must judge for ourselves.
In our World we wrongly see addiction only in terms of alcohol, drugs, gambling and in more recent times, sex, pornography and possibly gaming. These are easy tags to put on people because the damage caused by these addictions is easily seen.
But the truth is that any one of us can become addicted to anything we possess or long for. Anything we over-use, or over-think about, at the expense of others, can be described, I think, as an addiction. Any of us who have had an addiction or who lived with someone who has had one, will also know how astute, how clever, how manipulating an addiction makes us. The addict, often unconsciously, rationalises the addiction, blames others for it, hides it, even justifies it as necessary or good. The result is blindness to what is right, good, honest and true.
We can become addicted to a political party or a person who represents that party. Fascism is an obvious example of this. We can become addicted to our mobile phones or to Facebook or Twitter or any one of many branches of social media. We can become addicted to power. We can become addicted to food, to fashion, to a culture or sub culture, to music, in fact to anything that becomes all-consuming for us, blinding us to what is right and good, and damaging the way we interact with others and form relationships.
In Religious guise we might call an addiction, ‘Idolatry’. The second commandment of the Ten Commandments of Moses warns about it: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.” This means you are forbidden to make or fashion or worship any God other then the God of Abraham. To do so is to make for ourselves an ‘Idol’ – to put something or someone in place of God.
There are no shortage of examples of Idolatry: Religious cults are an example, where a person claims to be, or is viewed by his/her followers to be God, and therefore always right, always to be believed, always to be followed, no matter what he/she says or does. Religious extremism is another example, where obedience to a particular law or set of values become all that matter. In recent times the rise of groups such as ISIS are examples. In Christianity, sects like the Ku-Klux-Klan and other extreme, right-wing, supremacist groups are examples. Religious fundamentalism, where the Bible itself can become an idol, might also be mentioned.
Today’s Gospel is just another example of Idolatry. Money, wealth, and the power it brings us, become all that matter. Making money, getting to the top, being number one, always having more than anyone else, become what is ‘good’ and ‘right’. How we get to the top, the hurt we cause, the people we trample on, the trust we lose, the relationships we destroy, are all rationalised as ‘necessary’ or ‘for a greater good’.
In the Gospel Jesus identifies both the master and the steward as guilty of Idolatry. When he says at the very end., “you cannot serve both God and money.” he is rightly saying, “There is only one God, who is Love. Turning profit, popularity, wealth, ambition, success, into Gods to be sought and worshipped is creating idols. Even, of all things, suffering can become a kind of idol for us – something to be sought and treasured as a sign of our goodness, our value in the sight of God. St. Ignatius of Loyola taught that the ‘evil one’ can use our own goodness, our virtues, to draw us away from God. Turning our virtues into the idols we worship is something we must be very careful of!
We can say, “Well, I’m not rich and I never will be. This Gospel is not relevant to me!” But please stop first, and reflect on what other idols you may have created for yourself. Might it be your popularity and good name? Or maybe your achievements and academic degrees? Or what about always looking good and sounding good? How about always owning the biggest and best car? Always flaunting the latest technology? Even the very keyboard I am presently writing on can become an idol, if I let it – I can recite its specs by heart and I know its power, speed and OS. I know it is better than an inferior fruit-like product and I can prove that beyond doubt! Idolatry at its best, or worst!
Ask me what the antidote to Idolatry is and I will say ‘balance’. For me ‘balance’ epitomised the life, words and actions of Jesus. We are called, I believe, to be people of balance above all else. It will be recognised by our ability to forgive, to never condemn, to respect difference, to trust others, to be gentle in word and deed, to smile and laugh and sing and to attract others to do the same.
But that’s for another reflection.
|Gospel Sunday September 18th 2022||Luke 16:1-13|
You cannot be the slave of both God and money
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