Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday word, 23 Sep 2007

25th Sunday of the Year (23Sep2007) Am 8.4-7; Ps 113; 1Tm 2.1-8; Lk 16. 1-13
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Lemonade of Crisis

Today’s gospel reading, a maze for 21st-century hearers and readers, can entangle us, but it does not have to. Its parable Jesus used to reveal that giving alms in faith draws us closer to God.

To forgo giving to those in need is always easy. We also read stories in the media about people who give fraudulent alms and about nations, who pledge millions to help victims of disasters, but their money never follows their pledges. Sadly, many individuals and nations are not reliable./1/ Jesus’ parable is about being reliable in the sense of being faithful and true. Jesus revealed himself as the faithful and true witness/2/ of divine fidelity. How can we best appreciate this parable?

First, Jesus told this parable to teach his disciples. Jesus taught his disciples with positive encourage-ment. A saying most of us have used is one way to appreciate his kind of encouragement: “If you are given lemons, then make lemonade.” Lemons are sour, so lemons easily stand for crises in our lives. We can wilt before crises, or we can respond in positive ways, which “making lemonade” suggests.

The crisis in Jesus’ parable is essential to it. The master of the household occasioned the crisis, when he demanded his squandering steward, “Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.” The steward was finished, so his master could only applaud the way the steward responded to his crisis, his final accounting, his visitation by his lord. His scattering possessions, which occasioned his dismissal, now occasioned his acceptance by those for whom he reduced their payments.

Jesus did not reverse the Seventh Commandment, You shall not steal. Remember, the squandering steward was finished. Instead, Jesus encouraged his disciples--then, and us now--to be more resourceful, more prudent and more clever in our response to our risen Lord, who visits us to invite us to join him to proclaim his gospel. Further, we disciples ought to use possessions of this world wisely in order to secure the most “real thing,” namely a share in God’s life.

Jesus’ not-obviously-clear sayings, which follow the parable, clearly share a movement: reliable in something tiny, reliable in something greater; wicked in something tiny, wicked in something greater. That which is tiny refers to possessions and that which is greater refers to how we dispose ourselves to God, who is the most real.

Possessions, things, all of creation can help us to make a return of love to our Creator./3/ When we stop treating them as gifts, which our Creator has given to us to help our stewardship, and more as entitlements, then possessions and all created things become idols--Mammon. Putting ourselves in the service of Mammon prevents us from making a return of love to our Creator by sharing with others in greater need. From God to Mammon is always a tiny step, indeed. Our use of possessions determines how we bestow ourselves before God, whether we accept Jesus’ invitation to join him as his disciples or not.

Almsgiving, assisting others, can cause us to look outward only. Yet the first alms any of us gives is oneself to God. Our interior disposition, our sense of God gracing us, moves us to desire to help others. Appreciating the things of the world as gifts God gives us to assist our stewardship of the world is a potent prayer of praise and shapes us more like Jesus, who calls us.

In your 15 minutes with Jesus each day this week consider your gifts and the Trinity who are the source of all them for you. Ask Jesus’ Spirit to enlighten your mind and refresh your heart in order to be more alert to how Jesus personally loves you. Allow your gifts to float to the surfaces of your heart and mind. As each one does--the roof over your head; clean water to drink and in which to bathe; significant people in your life; your parish; your school; your job; and more--savor each one; express your gratitude to Jesus. Resolve one way that you will live your appreciation to Jesus for loving you so greatly. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which reminds us all we have is divine gift and which shapes our hearts to use them more reliably, more prudently and more faithfully.

/1/ We translate one Greek word variously: faithful, trustworthy, reliable.

/2/ The phrase came to John in his revelation by Jesus’ self-revelation to John on the island of Patmos. See Revelation 3.14.

/3/ This paraphrases St. Ignatius of Loyola: “The other things on the face of the earth are created for the human beings, to help them in the pursuit of the end for which they are created [to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and be means of doing this to save their souls]” (Spiritual Exercises, 23.2 and [23.1]).
Wiki-images of the East Window of St. Andrew, Sydney, depicting the ministry of Jesus, and of The Worship of Mammon are in the public domain.

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