Credit for being Enterprising
Today’s gospel parable about the wily steward is a little tricky to interpret. The steward, about to be fired by his employer for embezzling, commits one final act of embezzlement to win the favor of his master’s debtors, hoping that they may give him another job. Jesus does not praise the rascal for his dishonesty; but he does give him credit for his cleverness in “winning friends and influencing people.”
Using our wits is all the more in order when we seek to win a hearing for a good cause by good means. It is only commonsense to speak to people in an idiom they can comprehend. Father Matteo Ricci followed that principle when he went to China in 1582 to bring the gospel to the proud Chinese.
Ricci was a learned Italian Jesuit. He quickly realized that this “western” Gospel would sound strange to the pagan but highly cultured Chinese leaders whom he sought first to convert. He decided that he and his fellow missionaries could get nowhere with the “Mandarins” or scholars unless they first became “Mandarins” themselves. So they adopted the dress and life-style of this highly revered academic class, and set out to learn their language and literature perfectly. Ricci, in fact, succeeded so well with the language that some of his writings have become Chinese literary classics.
Once he had gained the confidence of the scholars, Dr. Li (as he called himself) began by discussing with them the admirable rules of morality and social living of their great philosopher, Confucius. But Confucius had not given all the answers – nor raised all the questions. At these open points, Fr. Matteo gently interjected Christian teachings into the discussion. Thus, as Pope John Paul II recently said, “without imposing his views, he ended up by bringing many listeners to the explicit knowledge and authentic worship of God, the Highest Good.”
It was a painfully slow approach, but the only feasible one. The gospel was not given to the West alone, but to the whole world. It must be, therefore, proclaimed, as at Pentecost, in a manner understandable to every nation. Only thus can mankind hear the message Christ addressed to all his children.
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q285: In his first letter to Timothy (Second Reading: 1 Tim 2:1-8), why would St. Paul ask the Christians to pray for the Roman leaders and all others in authority, whose lifestyle and brutality were not exactly models to follow?
It is probable that this letter was written when Nero was in power. There was an important cultural force at work here in the Roman empire. Since the Christians refused to worship the Roman gods, and would not even burn incense honoring the “divine emperor,” they were considered by the ruling class to be “pagans”! The Christians held private and exclusive gatherings limited to believers in the divinity of Jesus, which made them look suspicious because of their “secret meetings” (even Catechumens were barred from the sacred mysteries, and were dismissed from the assembly).
St. Paul needed to accomplish three things. First, he needed to alleviate or remove the fears of the political rulers about any potential threats from this new sect whose members called themselves Christians. What better way than to publicly (his letter to Timothy) call for prayers for everyone, especially kings and anyone in authority. Secondly, he needed to teach the Christian community that it was their moral responsibility to obey anyone in a position of valid authority, as long as their orders provided for the good of all, because all such authority ultimately comes from God. Thirdly, he needed to remind the Christians that God wants everyone to be saved, and prayers of believers have great redemptive value and are part of their missionary obligation.
We need to take this advice to heart in our own society. Rather than pray that our political leaders do what we want them to do, let us ask God to bestow His gifts of wisdom and discernment upon them to enable them to do God’s will.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Authority is considered legitimate only when it seeks the common good and only if it uses morally licit means to attain that good (CCC #1902-3). Since authority belongs to God, the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of its citizens (CCC #1899, 1901). If rulers enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience (CCC #1903).
Q442: In today’s First Reading (Amos 8:4-7), the Prophet Amos seems to be talking to someone other than me; I’m not rich or hurting others financially.
This is one of those days when the Readings seem to give us a false sense of security. We might be tempted to say, “I’m not a merchant; so Amos’s charge of cheating can’t possibly be aimed at me.” Or regarding today’s gospel, we might be tempted to say, “I’m not wealthy, or responsible for another person’s wealth; so the gospel can’t be aimed at me.” Wrong! Scripture speaks to each one of us, many times making us very uncomfortable. But we all have one thing in common: we all want “things.”
A good illustration of this craving can be found in just about everyone’s home. It is a board game called “Monopoly.” The object of the game is to become wealthy at the expense of everyone else. We think it is fun to get all of those hotels and rental properties, and to drive others into bankruptcy. Little do we realize that the game is a mirror of what is going on in our own American society. Even at an early age, we are taught to become “desensitized” to the afflictions of others. Isn’t it true? Our values become distorted; life goes “topsy-turvy.” People even reach the point where they vote for self-promoting economic reasons, entirely ignoring the more important “life” issues and issues of social justice. They even vote for those who kill the unborn, or support the right to do so, the worst injustice and indignity of all!
Amos must have had a copy of our Catechism in his back pocket! He preaches against social injustices like wage discrimination, a “sin that cries out to heaven.” He talks about business fraud, price manipulation, and so on. Those growing wealthy have done so at the expense of others. God gives a solemn warning: “Never will I forget what they have done.” In the Gospel (Luke 16:1-13), Jesus warns, “You cannot serve both God and mammon!”
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Church has stood against social injustice from the beginning (CCC #1867, 2409 et al). Every Catholic is required to participate in promoting the common good, an obligation inherent in the dignity of the human person (CCC #1913).
You Cannot Serve God and Mammon
Last Sunday the Mass readings focused on God’s mercy. Today the liturgy highlights the divine mandate to practice justice – especially social justice. Traditionally justice has been defined as giving everyone what they are entitled to. Some would say the poor are entitled only to what they work for. But the ancient Israelites would say it differently. They knew that the land, the source of all wealth, was God’s gift to the whole people. The covenant law placed obligations and limitations on the owners of land. Amos denounces the well to do of his day for exact observance of religious holy days but ignoring the Torah’s prescriptions benefiting the poor. Our relationship with God is intimately connected with our relationship to other people, especially the weak and the poor.
Jesus makes the same point in the gospel reading. The unjust steward uses what amounts to a power of attorney over his master’s goods to ensure his future security. Jesus holds him up as an example, not for his dishonesty, but for his shrewdness. Jesus reaffirms the principle that land and wealth are held in trust for God and no one is absolute owner of possessions. We must use our stewardship over wealth to gain favor from the ultimate owner of everything by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.
Lord Jesus, you are our example; may we see what is important in our lives and how to remain faithful to it. Help us to see the needs of others and be quick to offer them our help. We look for kindness and understanding in others; may they find your love and care in us.