Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sept. 22, 2019
Book of the Prophet Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8
1 Timothy 2:1-8
The Gospel of Luke 16:1-13
Deacon Mike D’Addabbo
St. Louis Catholic Church
Last week we heard that familiar gospel from Luke about the prodigal son. I suspect most of us can repeat that gospel word for word and discuss the lessons it teaches us. Especially those lessons that focus on what is most important in our lives. We learned to ask- or beg- God our father for His forgiveness for our sins. We do this in order to keep God first and fulfill it through confession and acts of repentance.
The readings today also speak to this and the punishment we will face for not making our spiritual life the priority and putting it ahead of material wealth. And I want to be very clear. The Catholic Church does not say that we cannot achieve earthly success. In fact, quite the contrary. Just recall the gospel of the landowner giving each of his three servants a different amounts of talents. After the landowner returned from a trip he rewarded the servants who took the number of talents they had been given and increased them. He punished the servant who did nothing with the talent given because he was afraid of failure. God gives each of us different talents. He does not expect us to do nothing with them. He expects us to use those talents to improve our lives AND the lives of those around us. We have to place God first in what we do whether it be with a friend, family member or a complete stranger. That will keep us focused on God by doing what He expects us to do by putting Him first. That brings us to today’s readings which incorporate many of the same themes.
The first reading is from the Book of the Prophet Amos. Amos is known as a prophet of justice in the manner we think of a judge and justice today. Amos is warning the Hebrews of the dire consequences they will face if they do not put the Lord first. He tells them to change their ways and make the Lord their first priority with their earthly priorities after that. The Hebrew’s want the Sabbath period to end so they can go back to cheating people of a lower societal status out of money and goods. The Hebrew’s want to resume the buying and selling of those people keeping them in a state of servitude for little, if any, compensation. Today that is human trafficking and slavery. The wealthy put their earthly goals first trading the poor like sheep and cheating them out of goods and money just to keep them poor. However Amos is not afraid of the wealthy Hebrews. As a prophet of the Lord it is Amos’s obligation to spread God’s word, tell the truth and point out the wrongs that people are doing that are displeasing to the Lord. Amos does this regardless of the consequences or political correctness. The last sentence of the reading makes this very clear. Amos tells them “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: NEVER will I forget a thing they have done!!” Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah and the grandson of Abraham. He is an ancestral patriarch of the Hebrews. When the Lord says He swears on the pride of Jacob He is showing them the seriousness their errors. Amos wants the Hebrews to get very scared. He tells them they must change their current ways to focus on the Lord. Or they had better be prepared to accept the consequences. The Lord has sworn on their ancestral patriarch that He will not forget what they have done. It cannot be more explicit. In the Old Testament days the Israelites used to believe that the Lord punished them for the sins of their fathers. Here Amos is warning them that they will be punished for their sins and not for their father’s sins. So amend your ways now before it is too late.
Today’s gospel from Luke follows a similar theme as the prodigal son gospel. In this time period stewards were entrusted with the responsibility of managing a landowner’s wealth and property in much the same way a modern day steward is responsible for other people’s goods. Today’s gospel tells us about a steward who is about to lose his job because of his mismanagement. Losing his job would cause him to lose both his income and status in the community. Basically, because of the way he mistreated people, he would be friendless. He did not want to be alone so he had to find a way to reconcile himself with the people he had mistreated. The steward, facing the future with no income and ostracized from the community, became proactive and creative in his quest for reconciliation with both the landowner and the people he had mistreated.
First, he forgave the indebted people portions of their debt. He instructed the debtors to write new promissory notes to the landlord for the amount of the reduced debt. This earned him the gratitude of the debtors. Now, I have heard today’s gospel many times. I used to think that the steward was bribing the people and cheating the landowner by reducing and rewriting the amount of the debt owed. I was wrong. Modern day stewards today are paid by a salary. Stewards back then were paid by a commission based on the value of the landowner’s funds and property. The steward reduced the debtor’s debt by removing from it only the amount of commission that would he would have earned from the original debt. The debtors did not know their debt had been lowered through the sacrifice of the steward. They just knew that he had reduced their debt and for that he earned their gratitude. The landowner’s position was not changed. He still collected the proper amount due to him even though the debtors paid a lesser amount. The steward had fulfilled his obligation to, and earned the gratitude of, the landowner. He had acted properly in a fair manner in fulfilling his duties. The steward, through his actions and personal sacrifice, had thus earned the respect of both the landowner, who was removing him from his job for mismanagement, as well as the debtors who now had a lesser burden to carry. So even though he gained from his actions so also did the people he served. He acted justly.
We hear in the last line of today’s gospel- “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Mammon is a word that refers to earthly matters. We are being told that we can only have one focus in our lives. God commands us to love God first and secondly our neighbors. We cannot be a slave to money, property or status and we must be good to others. If we keep God first acting in accord with His commandments and use the gifts that He blessed us with then we will be successful. It may not be in ways that others think measure success but it will be in ways that demonstrate that God is our first priority. And when we fail- and we all do at times- God demonstrates that His love for us is so great that he is willing to forgive us. All we need to do is just ask Him. The Sacrament of Reconciliation allows us to reconcile ourselves with God just as the steward’s sacrifices reconciled him with the landowner and the debtors.
In today’s second reading St. Paul is writing to Timothy. He begins by asking that prayers be offered to everyone, including kings and all in authority, everywhere so that the people can lead a quiet and tranquil life in devotion and dignity. If they do that they will please God who “…wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” There is just one God. There is just one mediator between the people and God. That mediator is Jesus Christ who died for all of us. St. Paul explains that he was appointed preacher and apostle. He is speaking the truth and he was appointed to teach the Gentiles in matters of faith and truth. His closes with his wish that men should pray everywhere, lifting up their holy hands, without anger or argument. We are the gentiles in that letter. We are the people called to pray lifting up our hands without anger or argument. As we saw in the first reading, and the gospel, the message is clear. Make God our priority, pray to Him in all that we do and without resentment for doing so.
Now I brought St. Paul’s letter up last as a way to start segue into another topic. Yesterday was the feast day of St. Matthew who, as you know, is also a sinner, great apostle and evangelist. Jesus told Matthew, who was a tax collector and a person not well regarded, to “Come follow me.” And Matthew did. But we all know that first he had a dinner party. At that party he did not invite the people who considered themselves righteous and holy. Matthew knew they were big on talk and little on action. Instead Matthew invited the sinners and disenfranchised. The uninvited were displeased because their status was ignored. Status meant nothing to Matthew or Jesus. They wanted the people who were not full of themselves but instead were hungering for Jesus and His teachings.
I bring this up because our diocese is going to begin a diaconate formation class (called a cohort) next fall and, for the planning on everything that goes into it, trust me when I say that things have to move quickly. There will be three informational sessions held over the next month. They will be on Sat. Oct. 5 at St. Benedict High School at 10 am; Wednesday Oct. 9 at Church of the Holy Spirit at 6:30 pm and the last one on Sat. Oct. 26 at St. Mary’s in Jackson TN at 11 am. Are you being called to be an evangelist in the steps of St. Matthew or St. Paul? I will tell you that I have not met any yet of that caliber. But the men I have met are men who have listened to the Holy Spirit in their discernment. Those men opened their hearts and ears to the call of God. We are all a better people and stronger faith because of it. Yes our Church has had more than our share of bad publicity lately but that is not the majority of the Catholic clergy. It is up to all of us, and future generations, to gather in the fallen away, the doubtful and the weak and bring them back to Christ. The diaconate will train you to do just that. I hated school yet the Holy Spirit still enabled me and His help and lots of prayers from family and friends I stand before you today.
Not everyone is called by God to serve this way. If you feel that God may be calling you and perhaps guiding you this way, then you owe it to yourself to attend one of the information sessions. You only have to attend one and there is NO obligation to anything. There is nothing to lose, and plenty to learn, just by simply attending the information session. The diaconate classes will be taught by St. Meinrad’s seminary. This class will also be breaking new ground!! For the first time- and in recognition of our growing Hispanic population in the diocese- the classes will be bilingual. Todays and next week’s bulletin will have contact information and an application. It is highly encouraged that your wives to attend the information session also. Their participation is an integral part of this journey just like in your marriage.
Last weekend at our Deacon retreat the Bishop informed all the deacons of the upcoming cohort. We were encouraged to “spread the word.” We are all very excited for this class. If you feel even the slightest calling I encourage you to answer and see where it leads. Wives and children if you think your husband or father is being called we encourage you to talk and pray with him about it. Most often other people see things in us that we do not see. The first step to all is to attend the information class.
I can say that this has been a wonderful calling. On the day of ordination as I, along with 21 other men from my Memphis deacon class, lay prostrate on the aisle floor of the Cathedral I thanked God, and everyone else, for all they did for me and the other candidates to bring us to that point. As the Bishop laid his hands on us we all knew that we had followed the right path. If you chose to discern and go that way you will know if it is what God is calling you to.
I want to finish with this. There is also a common theme among all candidates studying God’s call. It is “I am not worthy to proclaim the word of God.” That self-doubt is understandable. It seems like an overwhelming responsibility. It was answered by a professor we had who said that none of us is worthy but we have been called by God to do His will and that includes proclaiming His word. He has blessed us to do so. One time I asked Bishop Steib when he knew that he had made the right decision. He replied on ordination day. I would agree.
God Bless you