The readings for this Sunday are complex, stark, full of warning but also full of promise. The First Reading is from the minor prophet, Amos, who prophesied in a time of great prosperity in Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II between 786-746 B.C. Amos is denouncing the hollow prosperity of many, at the expense of the poor and needy. He also denounces the actions of other cities like Damascus, Tyre, and Edom, but his greatest concentration is on Israel. He is especially tough on their injustice and idolatry because of the light that has been given them in the Law by Yahweh, through Moses and the prophets. For them, he says, the Day of Yahweh will be a day of darkness. He prophesied the overthrow of the sanctuary, fall of the royal house, and the captivity of the people, which will all take place 200 years later when the Babylonians will destroy Israel. His reward for this warning was that the High Priest of Bethel drove him out of the shrine. He was a prophet of divine judgment following in line of the Jewish prophetic tradition. He was the voice of Yahweh calling his children back to who they were, a people of high moral and religious standards. God’s chastisement is never completely destructive; He has hidden plans to bring His people back to Him and eternal salvation. By the end in chapter nine, the epilogue, Amos prophesies that the messianic king will come.
It is important to give this backdrop or context of why Amos is saying what he is saying in the First Reading and how the other readings are related. It seems that anytime Israel was in a time of prosperity, they strayed from Yahweh, forgetting who gave them their prosperity and even using others by gaining wealth at their expense. This is the fruit of a prideful, arrogant heart and not love of the other. Here Amos is not only warning the wealthy and cheaters, but also giving hope to the poor and needy, that Yahweh will rescue them. This is the Responsorial Psalm from Psalm 113. The psalmist is reminding us to praise the Lord everywhere, who always lifts the poor. The poor are not just the materially poor but also the wealthy who run a greater risk of being spiritually poor and bankrupt due to their false or shallow prosperity.
St. Paul is writing to Timothy and us that we need to live authentic humble lives in quiet and tranquility. We need to come to the knowledge of the truth that Jesus is the true mediator and that He became poor (a slave or handmaid). By His example of self-giving and not self-taking, with simplicity and constant receiving from the Father, He became rich in grace, virtue and holiness, heavenly treasures, and we can do the same. Saint Teresa of Calcutta often stated that the Western countries might have a worse poverty than her country of India – spiritual and emotional poverty, which only Christ can heal and fulfill.
In today’s Gospel from Luke 16:1-13 we see the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. A steward is a head servant who basically handles the business affairs of his master’s estate. This particular steward was lazy and dishonest, but when he was faced with termination of his employment, he settled his master’s accounts very expeditiously, but dishonestly. He secretly negotiated a reduced balance with those who owed his master money. He “impressed” his master not because he suddenly fixed his previously poor work record, but for the cunning with which he did it. Even though the master was cheated, due to the reduction of the amount of money given to him, he honored his steward for the shrewdness. The steward did not do this out of the kindness of his heart, but out of a selfish, concern for himself and his future material wellbeing. Jesus is warning us that we cannot just look towards our material wellbeing or prosperity, but our afterlife, as well, and that God won’t be cheated as the master was here. Jesus often denounces the Pharisees for their love and devotion to money and their own affairs rather than truly shepherding His people and not looking after their eternal salvation. Jesus wants us to use our earthly goods in a way that is truly advantageous for our eternal salvation and those of others as well. True Christians are called to be good stewards of creation and the divine grace within each one of us
It is never justifiable to use other human beings for our sake. People are created for their own sake and not for us to exploit, cheat, use sexually or emotional to fulfill our own desires. St. John Paul II taught all of this and much more all his life, including his 27 year Pontificate, which including writing the catechesis called The Theology of the Body. St. John Paul II always reminded us be not afraid to draw close to Christ and His Father, who unconditionally loves us. He always tried to remind us of who we truly are as adopted sons and daughters of the Father, endowed with such great dignity. Yet look at how so many children of God around the world are used, abused, and exploited, because of the self-proclaimed “rights” of the powerful, wealthy and influential. In this Year of Mercy, let us pray for ourselves and our loved ones who are struggling with being loved and knowing how to love as Jesus loves – unconditionally. We also need to pray for the suffering and those being exploited by governments, corporations, family and those who are doing the cheating and exploitation that they may learn the beauty and dignity of the human person and their sexuality as taught by God through St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Amen.
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Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joined the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three-year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.