Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 18, 2016
Timing couldn’t have been better.
Last week, I heard the news that Wells Fargo Bank fired 5,300 employees who had falsified sales records by generating millions of bogus accounts in order to appear to be more productive than they actually were. Now, as part of the unemployed, and because of their dishonesty most likely unemployable, at least in the banking industry, they are totally unproductive.
Moving on with my morning, I turned off the TV and opened up the Gospel to begin my reflection on the Readings for this 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. I literally laughed out loud when I saw that the Gospel was Luke 16: Jesus’s parable about the dishonest steward.
The Lord describes the incompetence of a man in the management of his master’s affairs. Realizing that he’s getting the sack for squandering his master’s property would most likely make him unemployable, he decided to do a little “networking.” In an effort to ingratiate himself with people who might give him a helping hand when he needed it, he did just what the 5,300 Wells Fargo employees did…falsified the records. In this case, he wrote off debt that was rightly due and owing to the master.
The reaction of the master to this further breach of duty is what makes this parable especially challenging. Rather than being outraged by the additional loss he suffered at the hands of the dishonest steward, the master seems almost amused. Even more difficult to understand, the master appears to admire the ingenuity of the villain. I seriously doubt that the board of directors of Wells Fargo Bank were amused by the “ingenuity” of the 5,300, especially after the government fined the Bank $185 million because of the dishonesty of the employees. So, what is this parable meant to teach us? What is this story all about? Certainly not that cooking the books is a clever and even admirable way to dig yourself out of a heap of trouble. Dishonesty of this sort is no laughing matter.
The Church makes it a little easier for us to grasp what the Lord is saying by pairing this bad guy with Amos the Prophet. Our First Reading comes from the writings of “The Voice of Social Justice, “a/k/a AMOS! Rather than being mildly amused by slick business dealings, Amos warns us about the wrath of God that will pour down on the dishonest…especially those who take advantage of the poor. It is simply unimaginable that Jesus would be reversing God’s message delivered by Amos. Clearly, the parable is not to encourage shady business practices. So what then?
The answer might well be set within our Second Reading (2 Tim 1-8). Jesus is the Mediator, Who stands between God and us. What that means is that in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Divine Mystery (God) and the perfection of human nature blended.
Because the Lord was fully human, just like us, in all things BUT SIN, the Lord experienced all of the emotions, feelings, needs, desires, and even temptations which we encounter in this world. The Lord always rejected what was contrary to the will and ways of The Father. We don’t. As a consequence, we, as individuals, and as the whole of humanity, have run up a staggering debt, which we could never even begin to repay. And so Jesus “cooked the books.”
By His complete and unconditional commitment to the will of The Father, even to the point of experiencing death on a cross, Jesus paid our debt for us. That is what St. Paul means when he tells us: Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all. And this perfect act of self-giving, rather than offending The Father, was most pleasing to God Who wills everyone to be saved!
Paul concludes this week’s passage with these words: It is my wish, then, that in every place, (people) should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument. One way that we can be certain that our “hands are holy” is by using them to be productive; picking up a pen and canceling the debts that we feel others owe to us.
That is the wish of The Lord…that we juggle the books in favor of our sisters and brothers.