25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113:1-2, 4-7
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Just Management of Material Blessings
Today's First Reading and the Gospel Reading deal with the issue of just management of material wealth. In the First Reading, God sent the 8th century BC prophet Amos to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to condemn those who trampled on the rights of the poor and disadvantaged and prompted illicit worship. Amos courageously confronted the apostate king of the Northern Kingdom and his priests at their shrine at Bethel, telling them that God never forgets unjust acts committed against the poor, and that the perpetrators of such acts, no matter what their station in life, cannot escape His divine judgment.

The Responsorial Psalm reminds us that to God the lives of the poor are equal in value with the lives of the rich. At the end of their earthly lives, God will bring justice to the righteous poor who have experienced temporal suffering by lifting them up from the dust of their humiliation to exaltation in His heavenly kingdom.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul reminds St. Timothy of the importance of offering prayers, supplications, petitions, and thanksgiving for everyone. This includes not only ordinary Christians but also rulers and those in authority, because it is God's will that everyone come to salvation through our New Covenant mediator Christ Jesus, who "gave himself as a ransom for all."

Our First Reading prepares us for St. Luke's Gospel Reading in which Jesus uses a parable about a dishonest but crafty steward to provide a teaching on the use and abuse of material blessings. Jesus' teaching on the subject of the just use of material wealth is that one cannot be disorderly attracted to material wealth and also be a servant of God. The two callings oppose each other. You are either God's servant or a slave to material riches. The selfish and disordered attraction to the accumulation of material blessings without regard for the poor in this life can endanger one's hope of eternal blessings in the next life.

Human history has shown that the most practical means of insuring access to the goods of the earth and the encouragement of human productivity is an ethical system of private property. This right is derived from the collective right of humanity to subdue the earth in managing and making use of the goods of the earth that, along with the blessing of fertility, are God's first gifts to mankind (Gen 1:28). However, the blessing of dominion over the earth is not defined as ownership but as stewardship, since God is the Creator and all the earth belongs to Him. The blessing of stewardship requires us to be ethical in our management of earthly resources, to treat those who work for us with justice by providing them with a fair wage, and to show our gratitude to God for our material blessings by sharing our largess with those who are less fortunate.

The First Reading Amos 8:4-7 ~ Condemnation for those who Persecute the Poor
4 Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! 5 "When will the new moon be over," you ask, "that we may sell our grain, and the Sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! 6 We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!" 7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: "Never will I forget a thing they have done!"

Amos of Tekoa (c. 750 BC) is known as the prophet of social justice. He was a poor shepherd and was not a member of any prophetic brotherhood (Am 7:14-15). God called Amos while he was living as a shepherd-farmer in the Southern Kingdom of Judah (Am 1:1) and sent him to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to stir up the people's consciences. Amos delivered God's warning of divine judgment on two subjects:

  1. The defense of the poor and disadvantaged against exploitation by the rich and powerful.
  2. The need for right liturgical worship. Liturgical ceremony could not be used to cover the exploitation of the poor.

Amos condemned those who trampled on the rights of the poor, delivering his message in the Northern Kingdom's schismatic counterfeit shrine at Bethel (1 Kng 12:26-33; Am 3:14; 4:4; 7:10, 13). God's holy Temple in Jerusalem was the only place where right sacrifice and worship could be offered (Dt 12:4-6; 1 Kng 11:36; 2 Chr 3:1).

4 Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! 5 "When will the new moon be over," you ask, "that we may sell our grain, and the Sabbath, that we may display the wheat?
For the covenant people, every new month was calculated by the rising of the new moon (see verse 5) and was celebrated in a liturgical service (Num 28:11-15). The Sabbath marked the end of every week and was also observed in an obligatory liturgical worship service (Ex 20:8; 23:12; Num 28:9-10). As in the Sabbath observance, the feast of the New Moon and all holy days in the liturgical calendar required that all physical labor and all business must cease in a day that was dedicated to worshiping God.

5b We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! 6 We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!"
Instead of concentrating on a sacrifice of self in total surrender in worshiping and praising the Lord God, the selfish and self-centered people the Lord is condemning through His prophet are hypocrites who outwardly observe the holy days but continue to plan and scheme how they can deceive the just in fraudulent practices and take advantage of the poor. They only pay lip service to worship and anxiously await the end of the holy day so they can engage in their deceitful practices.

7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: "Never will I forget a thing they have done!"
In verse 7 God swears an oath to never forget the sins against the just committed by the wicked. The term "pride of Jacob" refers to the arrogance of the Israelites in thinking they could ignore their covenant obligation to care for the poor and disadvantaged without facing God's retribution (Dt 15:4, 7-8).

Amos's warning is as important to us today as it was to 8th century BC Israelites. Church catechesis uses this passage from Amos and others (i.e. Dt 24:14-15; 25:13-16; Luke 6:20-26; Jam 5:4) to teach the virtue of justice. Do you celebrate the Lord in your heart at every Eucharistic celebration and do you go forth from the celebration with the intention to do good works that demonstrate your faith? If you do not and if you scheme to defraud the just and to ignore the poor, you may think that you can deceive the community but you cannot deceive God. He sees every act, He reads the content of every heart, and He judges the intent of every action. Not only does God remember every unjust act against the poor and disadvantaged but He also has given the promise that acts of love and charity are remembered and can atone for sin: Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sins. He who does a kindness is remembered afterward; when he falls, he finds a support (Sir 3:29-30).

Responsorial Psalm 113:1-2, 4-7 ~ Praise to God who raises up the Poor and Needy Response: "Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor" or "Alleluia."

1 Praise, you servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD. 2 Blessed be the name of the LORD both now and forever.
Response
4 High above all nations is the LORD; above the heavens is his glory. 5 Who is like the LORD, our God, who is enthroned on high 6 and looks upon the heavens and the earth below?
Response
7 He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes, with the princes of his own people.
Response

The psalm begins with a call to praise the name of the Lord (verses 1-2), and after proclaiming His glory above the heavens (verse 4) the psalmist expresses awe of the Lord by asking a rhetorical question in verses 5-6. The answer is of course that there is no one or no thing that can be compared to the might and majesty of the Lord God who raises up the poor, exalting those of low degree to give them an place equal to princes in His heavenly Kingdom.

Words of praise similar to this psalm are found in the Magnificat when, after the announcement of the Incarnation, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the lowly "servant/handmaiden" of the Lord, visited St. Elizabeth and proclaimed in her canticle of praise that the Lord exalted one of low degree in choosing her to be the mother of the Son of God: For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness ... He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly (Lk 1:48, 52).

The Second Reading 1 Timothy 2:1-8
1 First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, 2 for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. 3 This is good and pleasing to God our Savior, 4 who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,6 who gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed preacher and apostle. I am speaking the truth, I am not lying, the teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8 It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.

In this reading St. Paul continues to give advice to St. Timothy, the Pastor of the Christian community at Ephesus (see last week's second reading). In this part of his letter, Paul advises Timothy concerning the liturgy celebrated at Ephesus and gives directives on prayer and proper conduct during the Eucharistic celebration. "First" in verse 1 indicates primacy in importance. The first duty of the Church is to pray and the first duty of the shepherd of a faith community is to organize community worship. Timothy is more than a teacher of the Gospel; he is also the minister of worship (1 Tim 1:3-7).

St. Paul lists four types of prayers in verse 1:

  1. Supplications
  2. Prayers
  3. Petitions
  4. Thanksgivings

"Supplications" indicates prayer for some pressing need of the community. "Prayers" is a more general term and perhaps refers to memorized prayers like the Lord's Prayer, which we know was part of the liturgy of the early Church (Didache, 8:1-3). The Greek word translated "petitions" is sometimes translated as "intercessions" and comes from a Greek verb used to describe the favor extended to a vassal or subject who has the privilege of being admitted into the presence of his lord or king to present a request (also see 1 Tim 1:7). These prayers would have been similar to our intercessory prayers. The climax is prayers of "thanksgivings" in the plural. The word "Eucharist" is the same word in the singular. In this case, "thanksgivings" are likely prayers of glory and praise to God, acknowledging gratitude for God's many blessings, the greatest of course being the gift of the Eucharist.

The prayers are for "everyone:" for one's family, the congregation, the universal Church, the non-Christian community, and even for their enemies (Mt 5:44). The "everyone" also includes the civil authorities: kings and political leaders who are responsible for maintaining peace and justice and who could not rule without the consent of God. Next Paul gives the reason for including "everyone" in their prayers. It is because it is pleasing to God who calls everyone to salvation (verse 4). St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that God does not need our prayers to act, but He wishes to act because of our prayers.

Paul links the promise of "salvation" to "knowledge of the truth." Belief cannot only be based on an emotional feeling. To be lasting and maturing faith, belief must be based on an intellectual understanding of the reason for one's faith. Paul defines that "knowledge of the truth" in verses 5 and 6 in what may contain an early Christian profession of faith that was recited by the congregation during the liturgical service:
5 For there is one God. There is also one mediator
between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as ransom for all.

Paul's assertion in verse 7 that he is "speaking the truth" as a preacher to the Gentiles is reminiscent of similar affirmations he made in other letters (Rom 9:1; 2 Cor 11:31 and Gal 1:20). Finally, Paul tells Timothy that the prayers of the community must not be marked by internal dissension or strife. Instead, the liturgical prayers of the community must celebrate their unity of belief in the Savior and the love of the community for God and for each other. This must be the goal of every Christian community in celebrating the Living Christ in the unity of the Eucharist. For a description of the celebration of the Eucharist in c. 155 AD, see CCC 1345.

The Gospel Reading Luke 16:1-13 ~ The Use and Abuse of Material Blessings
Two of the teachings in this chapter deal with the use or abuse of money/wealth: Luke 16:1-13 and 16:19-31 (next Sunday's Gospel reading). They are separated by a condemnation of the Pharisees for their love of money and two other teachings about the Law. The focus of final teaching about wealth is the inevitable judgment of the rich for their lack of compassion for the poor. The first teaching on money/wealth that is our Gospel reading is directed to Jesus' disciples.

Luke 16:1-8a ~ The Parable of the Dishonest but Crafty Steward
1 Then he also said to his disciples, "A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. 2 He summoned him and said, 'What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.' 3 The steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.' 5 He called in his master's debtors one by one. To the first he said, 'How much do you owe my master?' 6 He replied, 'One hundred measures of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.' 7 Then to another he said, 'And you, how much do you owe?' He replied, 'One hundred kors of wheat.' He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.' 8 And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently."

The interpretation of this parable looks to the figurative meaning of the whole parable and not for the individual parts. In Jesus' story, the steward was a freeman who earned his living by the additional revenue he could add to the bill of the money owed to his master. He was not cheating his master by dropping the sum that each of the creditors owed; he was simply reducing his commission and in some cases probably eliminating his cut completely. At this point in his life, the steward realized that his master's creditors' gratitude and friendship was more valuable to him than money.

Jesus is not praising the steward's dishonesty in squandering his master's property (verse 1). It was because he misused the master's property that he was being dismissed, and Jesus does not praise that action. However He does draw our attention to the good deeds the steward does in order to win friends who will help him in his hour of need. Admittedly, it is an action that is self-serving, but it does not defraud his master. In fact, the master admired his quick thinking in ingratiating himself to the creditors and transferring their debt to him from money to a personal obligation generated by his mercy to them in reducing their debt.

Luke 16:8b-13 ~ Jesus' Teaching on the Parable and the Right use of Material Wealth
8b "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth [literally "the mammon of iniquity"], so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. 11 If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? 12 If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? 13 No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

Jesus expands on His parable by encouraging the prudent use of one's wealth. He is not recommending that the disciples act as the dishonest steward did, but that they practice his foresight and ingenuity by using the temporal things of this world that are not ours and will pass away to purchase for ourselves those things which are eternal and will not pass away. Notice that Jesus uses a series of parallels/contrasts in His teaching:

Parallels/contrasts in Luke 16:8b-13
children of this world children of light
dishonest wealth eternal dwellings
trustworthy in small matters trustworthy in great
dishonest in small matters dishonest in great
dishonest wealth true wealth
mammon God
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013

"Mammon" in verses 9 and 13 means wealth or money. Money is called "dishonest" because often it has been acquired dishonestly even before passing into the hands of someone who is honest. Money should be used with eternal benefits in mind rather than temporal. It is the eternal value of the deed that will welcome one into heaven. The crafty steward is a "child of this world." The "children of light," with their "other worldly" concerns are in contrast to the "children of the world" who are invested in the material rather than the spiritual. The disciples of Jesus Christ (Christians) are the "children of light" while the "children of this world" are those who do not profess Christ as Lord and Savior (see Jn 8:12).

Jesus says that the "children of the world" are more prudent in dealing with their contemporaries than are Christians. Jesus' point is that the faithful should be prudent about the use of wealth just as the crafty steward (a child of this world) was prudent. Wealth will not buy friends; only generosity results in true friendship. In the same way, if we know God's friendship and blessings are given to those who are generous and show mercy to the poor, shouldn't we be clever enough to realize what actions of mercy and compassion in using our material wealth will benefit us eternally?

11 If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? 12 If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?
To have a better understanding of the implications of this teaching, see Jesus' Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20-26 in which He speaks of social justice in terms of eternal blessings and the eternal judgment for those who practice greed. Earthly blessings including wealth/riches are from God. From those blessings we are required to care for the poor and disadvantaged. If we cannot be trusted in the matters of sharing our earthly wealth, Jesus asks the question, why should God trust us with the wealth/riches of eternal life? God has the power to judge the souls of human beings and the power to determine their eternal destiny. In the material world, anyone who is "untrustworthy in very small things" is also viewed as "untrustworthy in great ones;" and the person who is "dishonest in very small matters" is also viewed as someone who is "dishonest in great ones." Therefore, why should it be different in God's assessment of a person's life? If God cannot trust us to wisely use the material wealth that He has generously given us, and if we cannot be trusted to share it with the poor, how can we be trusted with "true wealth"? "True wealth" in verse 11 is the gift of God's grace that leads to eternal life.

13 No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
This verse is the summary of Jesus' teaching on this subject. You cannot be disorderly attracted to material wealth and also be a servant of God. The two callings oppose each other. You are either God's servant or a slave to material riches. The love of money will turn money/wealth into a false god. To be dependent on riches is opposed to the teachings of Jesus who asks for complete dependence on God as the chief characteristic of Christian discipleship.

Let those of us who possess earthly wealth open our hearts to those who are in need. Let us show ourselves faithful and obedient to the laws of God. Let us be followers of our Lord's will in those things that are from the outside and not our own. Let us do this so that we may receive what is our own, that holy and admirable beauty that God forms in people's souls, making them like himself, according to what we originally were.
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 109

Catechism References:
Amos 8:4-7 (CCC 2409)
Psalm 113:1-2 (CCC 2143)
1 Timothy 2:1 (CCC 2636); 2:2 (CCC 2240; 2:3-4 (CCC 2822); 2:4 (CCC 74, 851, 1058, 1256, 1261, 1821); 2:5-8 (CCC 2634); 2:5 (CCC 618, 1544, 2574)
Luke 16:3 and 13 (CCC 2424)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013