20 September 2013

Maybe Jesus is Wrong: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

You cannot serve both God and mammon.

Or, a simpler way of saying it: we cannot serve both God and money.

Yet, doesn’t it seem as if Jesus is wrong on this one?  Doesn’t it seem unreasonable or unrealistic?  Or maybe it is an example of some teaching of Jesus not translating very well into our current times?  Because, let’s be honest, while none of us likely “serve” money, forsaking all our family and friends to make a fortune, we all worry about money: a car or mortgage payment, a rent check, rising utilities, saving for the education of our children or making that decision on when to retire – and if we have, attempting to figure out if we have enough to continue seeing grandkids and enjoying rest with family and friends. 

So, yes, isn’t it plain to see that when Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon” he just doesn’t understand?

Or, maybe, Jesus understood perfectly.

Because, you see, when Jesus talks about serving God and mammon, he isn’t just talking about wealth and riches – big checkbooks and fancy cars.  No: Jesus is teaching us that when it gets right down to it, there are plenty of temptations in this life that steer us away from God and claim for us the place of God: and they’re called, even if it is an unpleasant word, idols.

Jesus is talking about idols; he’s talking about us using anything: whether it be our money or our gifts and talents in a way that only serves our own needs and not the needs of those around us, regardless of how deserving they are.  On one hand there are there is the stuff that can become an idol: a car, new clothes, the latest iPad – these become the reason for our existence.  But there are plenty of other idols more dangerous than these: the power and privilege we have in our families, our friendships, our relationships and our society.  What’s more, we too can ask ourselves whether we have used our intelligence or our kindness for others to increase our own standing so that we receive glory, rather than God.  And, standing here before you week after week, anyone who presumes to preach must ask a similar question: is the pulpit an idol for praise, or does the message point to the Word of God who creates all?

In the beginning of the Gospel, we heard that the dishonest steward for all his cunning was still going to be fired.  And why? Because he was “reported [to his master] for squandering his property.”  The steward in the Gospel has one job: to help his master grow his wealth.  The gifts given to him aren’t for his to keep, but for him to protect and increase it.  The steward’s treasure is not his own – and neither are ours, whether they be what we buy or positions in which we live.

The gifts given to us by God – and we all have them – are not given to us for our own sake.  Even those things that we have gained through hard work, blood, sweat and tears are only ours because of the original gifts given to us by the Lord and passed down to us through our family and friends. 

For these past weeks, we have heard Jesus prodding us through the Gospel, providing us a description of what God is like: the God who is completely committed to forgiving us; the God who starts out by seeking us out; the God who doesn’t ask us to earn His love, but only to accept it when it is offered to us.  Yet, this Sunday, we finally hear what being a follower of Jesus means: it means that our lives no matter what we’ve done in the past, need to change.  Again.

Jesus calls us to reorder the priorities of our lives, no matter where we stand in life’s journey.  We are asked today to consider in what parts of our lives we are play the part of the dishonest steward, squandering wealth.  We have the opportunity, given this day’s readings, to reconsider who we serve: the God of Jesus Christ, or the god of the world.

This sounds, of course, like a tall order.  It seems as if it is well beyond our reach. And, it is!  In one of my favorite biographies of Saint Francis, GK Chesterton commented something to the effect that “it is the highest and holiest of things that the person who knows everything has been given to him or her by God, will spend his or her entire life trying to repay God.

In other words: the more we realize in our lives how gifted by God we have been and continue to be, the more we will feel a call to share those gifts with others, not keeping them for ourselves, but sharing with both this community and all of Southie.

And so, when Jesus tells us this morning that we cannot serve God and mammon, what we are really hearing is Jesus explaining to his followers – then and now – that God wants and desires our very best, not what is left over.

My grandmother used to have a refrigerator that said TUIT.  T – U – I – T.  And when I asked her about what it said, she told me it reminded her to get TO IT – to stop putting off what could done today until tomorrow.  This week, let us take to our own prayer Jesus’ call to get TO IT – to get to the work of placing our relationship with God and our use of gifts for others.

This message and call may not be a popular one: and, quite frankly, it isn’t easy.  Yet, Jesus puts the question to us again today: who do we worship, the living and true God or something else?


Judy Kallmeyer said...

This week's Gospel and your homily are what I like to call "ouchers." They prick the soul and call us to deeper realities, and deeper looks into our innermost being. We are asked to "stand up and be counted." Are we really committed Christians, wholeheartedly living up to the standards set by the Lord, Living for Him, or are we, in the words of Macbeth "sound and fury signifying nothing." You have given me much to ponder on today, Brother Matt.

Anonymous said...

Matt - Why do you think today's parable refers to the dishonest servant as prudent after he reduces the debts of his master's creditors in order to win favor with them?

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