By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
First Reading: Amos 8:4-7; Response: Psalm 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8; Second Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Gospel: Luke 16:1-13
Amos is the earliest of the prophets whose oracles have been transmitted to us in the form of a book or scroll. Though his divinely instituted ministry was to the Kingdom of Israel in the north, he was from the Kingdom of Judah in the south of the Holy Land. He was a rancher (sheep or cattle) and a specialist in the care of mulberry fig trees. This entailed puncturing the immature fruit of this species to enable nature to sweeten them as they ripened. The date of his prophetic ministry was in the mid-740s B.C. The overriding political and religious danger was the colossus to the north and east of Israel – the Assyrian Empire reaching to Israel’s northern border. Amos’ major concern was not so much the danger of Assyria, but the corruption of society displayed through social injustice within the kingdom. His message was a message of doom proclaimed against king, priests and upper rungs of society’s ladder. Destruction was now unavoidable. The Day of the Lord, a day of reckoning for them, was at hand. The worst envisioned scenario would come in the fall of the capital city Samaria to the Assyrians in 721 B.C. That was the end of the kingdom, followed by deportation of the people.
In today’s reading, Amos begins, “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.” Israel guided its religious and social life by the lunar calendar. The feast of the New Moon, the day when the new moon first appeared in the sky, was celebrated like a Sabbath — no work, no commerce. Amos attacks the merchants who say, “When will the new moon be over, and when will the Sabbath be over, that we may sell our grain and display our wheat?” He accuses them of measuring grain with a smaller container, then weighing it with a heavier (fake) weight. Deuteronomy 25:13-16 forbids exactly this kind of deceit (See also Proverbs 20:10 and Lev. 19:35-36). After cheating in the selling of wheat, they sweep up the chaff, (fine dry material left after winnowing the wheat), and charge people for this trash. Amos’ term, “buying the humble for silver” means being sold into slavery to pay debts — a not-uncommon practice in the Ancient Near East. He accuses merchants of doing the same to the poor for as little as the cost of a pair of sandals. Our reading ends with an oath by the Lord God, “Never will I forget a thing they have done.”
Psalm 113 is a song of praise for a merciful God. A favorite verse, “Who is like the Lord, our God, enthroned so high above us that he needs to stoop down to view the heavens and the earth below him.” Human language is limited for describing God, but it is usually the only available tool with which to attempt it. How does this psalm of praise respond to the scathing denunciations of businessmen by the prophet Amos? “He raises up the lowly from the dust. From the dunghill he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes . . . .” Echoes of Mary’s hymn, the Magnificat [See Luke 1:52 (Job 5:11)].
In the pastoral letter to Timothy, the author asks for prayers and thanksgiving to God for everyone. Then, specifically, a prayer for “kings and for all in authority.” The purpose of the prayer is, “that we lead a quiet and peaceful life.” There follows a negation of the strange Calvinist teaching of double predestination, that God created not only some to be saved, but others to be damned. Instead, we read in Timothy, “God . . . wills everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The proof, “There is one God and one meditator between God and man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” Paul defends his apostolate, as is frequent in his letters, that God appointed him preacher and apostle to the Gentiles. There must have been some unruly Christian gatherings. He concludes, “I want men to pray . . . without anger or argument” (See 1 Cor. 14:40.)
The gospel gives an example of property management by an agent gone wild. Embezzlement was the name of the game. A whistleblower caught him at it and reported him to his boss. The manager was called on the carpet for a reckoning. The boss: “You’re fired! But only after you have prepared a full account of your management.” The manager (steward) dared not refuse this final accounting because he will need a job somewhere. He must have had full authority over the assets of his boss, a kind of power of attorney. Musing to himself, he takes stock of possibilities. He is unable or unwilling to do shovel-ready work, but ashamed to become a beggar. There is hope. Before he goes, he uses his authority to ingratiate his boss’ debtors by giving them big discounts if they settle their accounts immediately (Not an uncommon practice in our time). His former boss is pleased with the income, a kind of “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Recall that Jesus used parables to teach and that Christian preachers and teachers used them as forms of catechesis. So Luke adds other sayings of Jesus to apply the parable to current situations.
He notes that “the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” This is not a compliment to Christians — the children of light. Probable meaning: those engaged in secular pursuits are more successful than Christians who endeavor to live as Christians. How can Christians upgrade themselves? Luke once again puts in a plug for the poor and needy. “Make friends for yourselves with wicked mammon, (a Semitic word for money and wealth), so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” By whom? By God and by the poor whom you helped. Luke’s addition of more Jesus-sayings may not seem to be directly related to the situation in the parable; still, he finds them worth quoting as a warning to Christians. If you are not trustworthy in small matters, who will give you responsibilities of which you think you are worthy? A Christian’s relationship to mammon (wealth) again comes to the fore. “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate the one and love the other or vice versa. You cannot serve both God and mammon.” One could, however, use bad old mammon, as Luke recognized above, to “make friends for yourself, so that when it fails, (either you run out of it or leave it behind at your death), God and the poor will receive you into eternal dwellings.”