Summary: To restore all things in Christ, we need the mammon, made righteous by your giving generously, to do it.
8th Sunday After Pentecost 2018
Today we come face to face with what we might title Divine Economics 101. It owes nothing to Adam Smith, or Friedrich Hayek or even G.K. Chesterton. It requires a special care in reading because the Gospel might convince us that Jesus is commending graft or embezzlement. St. Paul gives the preliminary lesson.
We are debtors, but not to the flesh, to what we might call the worldly bank. When we sin, we exchange a passing pleasure, a lesser good, for the Greatest Good, our relationship with God. When we sin, we are more likely to sin again, looking for the same thrill, the same short-term gain. After a while, our brain chemistry actually begins to change, and we start thinking that our evil actions are good. We literally become enslaved to the sin, we become in debt to evil.
That’s not why the Holy Spirit is given to us. The Holy Ghost is given in baptism and ratified in confirmation and strengthened in every Holy Communion so that we may do good and avoid evil. The first power we are given is the power of prayer, and the right and urge to call God our Father. St. Paul uses the Aramaic word “Abba” for Father. And our Father delights to hear us say it. He must. I remember when our grandson was living with us and I would come home after a day of work. All I’d have to do is open the back door and I’d hear “Papa, papa, papa” as he ran up to give me a hug. “Papa,” “Abba” “Daddy,” is what we owe the one who created, redeemed and sanctified us. We delight to say it and God delights to hear it. And when we say it, we open ourselves to all God’s gifts, which He pours out in abundance for the upbuilding of the whole Church.
Scholars tell us that the story Jesus tells in our Gospel may be one that was commonly known around first-century Galilee–an estate manager had been padding the bills owed by his master’s customers. He had been doing other things to build his own wealth at the master’s expense. So he got a pink slip and had to prepare a balance sheet. No chance of getting a good letter of reference from the boss, so how could he endear himself to the other side of the business? All you business owners know the secret. BIG DISCOUNTS! There’s no chance he’ll get his share of the amounts owed, so he peels his own markup from the original bill. One after another the customers leave his office owing twenty or thirty or even fifty percent less. They are smiling; the steward is smiling. Everyone is happy. Even the owner is happy, because his customers are happy and he is still getting what he is owed. Moreover, the steward has improved his chances of getting a new job. Win, win, win. It sounds like a textbook case.
But what does Our Lord want us to learn from this story? Let’s not forget last week’s Gospel. Jesus constantly teaches that our only requirement is to do the Father’s will. He is particularly hard on those who pray “Lord, Lord” but do not follow the commandments. The steward in today’s Gospel got into trouble because he did not operate within his master’s protocols. He plucked the customers in order to feather his own nest.
For the past few weeks Fr. César and I have been sharing ways we can all become more united with our parish and our diocese. Your response has been very encouraging. It was especially gratifying to see so many of you come out to the meet and greet with the parish council last weekend. Now it’s time to hear the words of Our Lord from the pen of St. Luke. We need to get shrewd with the master’s assets, and, to borrow a trite saying, put our money where our mouth is.
Or rather, give back part of the bounty Our Lord has given us. I remember a bumper sticker from the last century: “Honk if you love Jesus.” I like the follow-up better: “If you love Jesus, tithe. Any hypocrite can honk.” We owe Our Lord everything, but He asks for only about ten percent. If you have been giving that to the church, the missions, the schools and other Catholic charities, we all thank God. If you have not, take this idea to your family talent and treasure discussion: send in the pledge to the Archdiocesan capital campaign. Our parish has raised 80% of what is expected from only about 20% of the parishioners. So pledge what you can. Who can’t pledge $100 over three years? Then look at your weekly or monthly contribution to the parish. Gradually increase it, month by month, until you are at 4 or 5 percent of your gross income. If we of St. Pius X are to fulfill our mission, to restore all things in Christ, we need the mammon, made righteous by your giving generously, to do it.