+ HOMILY +
25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
23 SEPTEMBER 2001
FR. RUSSELL ZINT
ST. MALACHY CATHOLIC CHURCH
Scriptual Reference: Amos 8:4-7, 1 Tim 2:1-8, Luke 16:1-13

Using Our Resources Wisely According to God's Commandments

       Several months ago, many of us were eagerly awaiting the new Steven Speilberg movie "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence." The name of the movie evoked images of another of Speilberg's movies, the heartwarming and touching "E.T.: the extra-terrestrial." Even though my friends and I had heard that the movie was based on a project of the late director Stanley Kubrick, known for his bleak, dark films, we still had it in our minds that A.I. would be another Speilberg classic, and a huge blockbuster. Suprisingly, we found the movie to reflect much more of the darkness of Kubrick than the light touch of Speilberg. It was a complex movie, and those of us who saw it realized that there was a lot of leeway in how one could interpret the movie. I interpreted the movie as being philosophical and religious, challenging traditional notions of what defined life and even denying the existence of the afterlife. One friend of mine saw it to be about the struggle of humanity to find its identity in the midst of the technological revolution that we are facing. Certainly, there was no right or wrong answer, just different interpretations of the same story.

       The gospel today presents us a story that, like A.I., is complex and unusual for Jesus, although, I doubt he got any help from Stanley Kubrick. ;-) We meet the steward of a wealthy man, who functions as a sort of CEO. He must not have been serving very well, or managing his master's assets appropriately, because he is forced to explain himself and his stewardship. The steward cannot bear the thought of manual labor or begging, so he devises a plan. By reducing the debts owed to his master, the steward hoped to find favor among the debtors, so they might be willing to return the favor later by hiring him. One owes 1000 barrels of olive oil; the steward reduces this by 50%. Another owes over 1100 bushels of wheat, which the steward reduces by 20%. Then, to our surprise, the parable ends with Jesus saying, "the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently."

       We are faced now with one of the most enigmatic, and confusing, parables of Jesus. Scholars are split on how to interpret the parable, much like viewers of A.I. were split in their interpretation of the movie. Some look at the parable this way. Jews were technically not allowed to charge interest if they loaned goods or money to others. That is why the wealthy man hired the steward: the steward would do the dirty work of charging interest, keeping the wealthy master "out of the loop." The steward, to pay his salary, would charge a mark up on top of the interest already due to the master. When the steward juggles the books, these scholars contend, he is simply eliminating his commission, and returning to the master the amount that was initially borrowed. Supporters of this argument say that Jesus wants to offer an example of someone who, when faced with a critical and difficult situation, will sacrifice his own gain in order to respond appropriately to the situation.

       On the other hand, there are some scholars who think this interpretation is sanitizing the story in order to accommodate those who are disturbed that Jesus would find anything commendable in someone so dishonest and self-serving. They think that the steward indeed was dishonest in his affairs, and shrewd to a fault. But these scholars reflect a little on what it means to be shrewd, or prudent. They note that Jesus said that we should be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. The steward knew that by reducing amount owed to his master by the debtors, he would ingratiate himself to the debtors. But, in addition to this, the master would recoup some of his loss, and win great honor among the people. Honor was itself considered to be great wealth in the days of Jesus. This interpretation shows that it is indeed possible to manage our goods in keeping with the requirements for entering into God's kingdom. You can be a saint, and still be "prudent" when it comes to handling money.

       It almost does not matter what interpretation you might subscribe to, because there are important lessons that spring forth from both of them, lessons that are particularly important in the difficult times that we are facing as a nation. The first interpretation taught us the lesson that followers of Jesus should sacrifice their own gain when confronted with a difficult situation. We have seen this lesson lived out in extraordinary ways in the last couple of weeks. People have lined up and waited for hours to give blood. People have given to the relief efforts with great generosity, including all of us, who gave over $10,000 to the American Red Cross from the Country Fair proceeds. All of us have been attentive to prayer, and have sought to seek peace in our hearts. We have reasons to be proud that we have been in keeping with this lesson of Jesus. The second interpretation, though, offers us a little bit more of a challenge. Many times we do not consider how to manage our goods, and our resources, in keeping with the requirements of God's kingdom. These are requirements that God's people must have been breaking almost 30 centuries ago when Amos wrote his words in the first reading. His scolding words show us that God wants us to treat the poor with justice, never taking advantage of them. Indeed, all of us are called to share what we have in order to provide for the needs of others. Then we are in keeping with the requirements of God's kingdom.

       This lesson relates to recent events as well. Lately, a lot of people have been asking the question, "why do so many foreigners hate us Americans?" In the midst of the terrible tragedy that we have faced, it is not a bad question to ask. Certainly, in asking this question, I am in no way implying that the terrorist acts carried out against our nation were in any way justified. On the contrary, they were horrible, murderous acts, and we must seek to bring those involved to justice and we must root out terrorism in ways that are lawful and appropriate. But maybe it's not such a bad time to consider what might give rise to this hatred towards America. It is shocking to know that the population of the United States makes up a small percentage of the world population, yet we consume a majority of the world's resources. People throughout the world are aware that we live according to a standard that they can never realize. And, many times, people throughout the world are even aware that there are American companies that exploit the cheap labor in their nation in order that we might have more stuff at a lower price.

       When we talk about justice, and bringing those who have harmed us to justice, it is important for us to consider how we have been unjust in our dealings with others in the world. It is for each one of us to consider how our nation, its government and industry, interact with other nations in an economic way. And, to bring it home, we need to consider our own attitudes towards wealth and the accumulation of 'things.' Indeed, we have seen that we can face a critical situation by giving up our own gain. Now is a time where we must consider how use our resources and how that affects others in the world community. Now is a time to consider how each of us might use our resources in keeping with the commandments of God's kingdom. If you want peace, work for justice, Pope Paul VI once said. In order to work for justice, we must manage our goods and our lives shrewdly, to be sure, but we must also be in keeping with God's commandments. +



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