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Sunday, 19 September 2010

25th. Sunday Year (C) 
(Amos 8:4-7; 1Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13)

He who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and he who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.
This teaching is applicable to many and varied aspects of life and training: for example, when learning to play the piano I was told that if I could play the piece slowly, in a controlled manner with no mistakes, then I would soon be able to play it at speed; and in all forms of endeavour, intellectual, technical and athletic, it is essential to acquire the basic skills if one hopes to attain to any degree of true proficiency.   There is, however, one decisive sphere in the human experience of life where it is supremely necessary and beneficial: that is, in parental upbringing of children.
Although most parents would say they agreed with the principle, nevertheless, far too many seem to have difficulty in their practical application of it; since, for whatever reasons, they do not want, or do not feel themselves able, to closely observe and lovingly guide their children in certain basic aspects of humanity that promote and protect happiness as individuals and peace and cohesion as members of society.  As a result they allow their children to grow up without any clear understanding of right and wrong, and no appreciation of the need for and dignity of good manners for life in society.  Never having learned to practice obedience towards their parents, such children grow up with little respect or reverence for the elderly or those in positions of authority; and being unversed in the practice of discipline and self-control, they have little awareness, and even less appreciation, of the rights of others, especially the humble, the weak, and the needy.  
Parents who thus, instead of trustfully and confidently facing up to their responsibilities, consistently speak soft and self-excusing words such as "He is only a baby, she only young", and thereby allow children in their care to grow up unruly, disrespectful, disobedient, selfish and cheeky, will, inevitably, be themselves found  responsible, in their measure, for the many subsequent excesses of the lout and the mugger, the addict and the drop-out, the lawless and the violent adult, gradually formed and finally turned out by their school of self-absolving, careless, indulgence over many years.  As a result, many in positions of authority and obligation with regard to children will have a very severe judgement to face because of their failure to recognize and teach the truth contained in those words:
He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.
Having already glanced at the roots of crime in our modern society, we are now invited to turn our attention to wealth, worldly wealth.  In our Gospel reading Jesus went on to tell us:
If you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with  true wealth?
This "dishonest" wealth, of which Jesus speaks, is often called "worldly wealth" which is – often enough in the case of great acquired wealth – dishonestly acquired, and always dishonest or unrighteous because it tempts those who seek it into sinful, unrighteous ways, as we heard in the first reading:
Hear this, you who trample upon the needy, and destroy the poor of the land!  "When will the New Moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell 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!  We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!"
The true riches, on the other hand, of which Jesus speaks, are those given us by God, as Jesus promises elsewhere (Matt 25:34):
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’  
Our Western society, and in particular, current American society, is marked by, and hated for, its abuse of wealth:
When will the Sabbath be past that we may sell grain and trade wheat, making the ephah small and the shekel large, falsifying the scales that we may buy the lowly for silver?
Whilst we cannot deny that unsavoury side of our western world, especially when it is represented by certain multi-national companies, nevertheless, it is by no means a western evil, for when we look at so many of the ruling classes or the ruling authorities in all parts of the world we see individuals and groups who are just as ready and eager as any western tycoon, to abuse wealth for the satisfaction of their own lusts for pleasure and power, without any real consideration for the needs of their own people.  Moreover, not just rulers and those in authority, not only multi-national companies, but indeed, all of us, need to look at our attitude to worldly wealth, for there are many so-called Christians who gladly put wealth first of all in their list of wishes to be fulfilled by some genial genie out of a bottle; and, in that respect, they too share in the guilt of those whose abuse of wealth they like to vocally condemn.
We must first of all realize that worldly wealth is not, of itself, an evil.  It does, indeed, lead easily to evil, but, of itself, it can be accepted on trust for the good of others.   We have had examples of this in our own society over the centuries; and in the early Church, some very wealthy members of Roman society, on becoming Christians, used their wealth to help fellow-Christians.   Indeed, the very making of honest wealth, can be good: for Christian business men and women can indeed do great good by providing work for others.  What is evil, however, is a desire for worldly wealth which would overstep the commands of God and override the rights of others, and in this respect many ordinary Christians are as guilty in their hearts and in their lives as those they may curse with their tongues.   How many men will indeed call a businessman a fat cat, even though he provides work, while cheering a much wealthier, and perhaps totally self-centred, footballer with all his heart?  In this matter we must remember again the words of Jesus:
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another man's, who will give you what is yours?
The wealth of this world is possessed not by all men but only by a small minority; nevertheless, the natural riches of this world from which all personal wealth arises are most certainly given by God directly for all men.  Moreover, all the natural endowments of human nature together with the multitude of personal talents bestowed upon individuals are again given by God and intended indirectly, mediately, for all men: the talents of Beethoven and Handel, for example, while supporting and fulfilling their individual lives and aspirations, were also and supremely meant and bestowed to afford joy, comfort, and uplift, to all men.  In other words, whatever our situation in life, we all have gifts and corresponding responsibilities for those gifts: parents, teachers, the wealthy and the workers, those in authority and those in humble service, all of us have something which is not just for ourselves but for the good of others too, for the good of society, and of the world;   and we are commanded to use those blessings, our wealth of whatever sort, for the good of others not just for ourselves:
No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
The unjust steward in our Gospel parable eventually learnt to do just that: he learnt to put mammon to the service of God insofar as those debtors, relieved of a considerable portion of their burden would, as St. Paul tells us, praise the Master in whose name their debt had been remitted:
You (he is writing to his converts in Corinth who have just made a collection for needy Christians in Jerusalem) are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.  For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God; (for) they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you.  Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
We come finally to the question of authority and power, so closely allied to and connected with wealth.  Here we are not to judge so much as to pray.  We need men and women who are able and willing to bear authority and exercise power; but today many are again duplicitous in this respect, for they expect, and at times demand, that everything should be explainable to the ordinary public, who – they say -- can then give a definitive judgement on, or supreme authority for, the measure in question.  And yet, we are all well aware of that definition -- laughable but true -- of a camel or a dromedary, being the result of a committee trying to plan a horse!  Individuals are essential for decisions, governments are vital for policies, and we must never forget our Christian duty, a more serious and more essential duty than that of monitoring and criticising everything we do not, and cannot, fully understand, is the duty of prayer for those at the helm of the nation.  Politics is supremely important for the well-being of millions, and it is also is extremely involved: it is a devious skill at the best, where good intentions can easily be poisoned by a lust for power, or diverted by scheming and flattery, and where opportunities for self-serving abound, whilst true friends are rare if only because they are not easily to be discerned from the many pretenders surrounding those in high positions.  All this results in our joking frequently about politicians as if they could, and should, be dispensed with, consigned to the dust bin.  Dishonest ones should, of course, be removed, but we can never dispense with politicians as a whole; and because the world in which they live and work is both dangerous and even, at times, evil, the most sincere prayers of Christians are truly needful for such men and women to persevere as true Catholics and Christians, faithfully seeking to uphold Christian values and diligently serving the good of the whole of society:    
First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered for everyone, for kings and all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our saviour who wills everyone to be saved
Our readings today have shown themselves to be very pertinent for our present-day situation; indeed, their ultimate message is pertinent for all times and for all societies:
He who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and he who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.
The greatest temptation for individuals, and the gravest danger for society in general, arises when the requirement of faithfulness in small things is disregarded: whether such negligence be that of ordinary people thinking their failings make no difference to the overall picture, or that of the powerful and influential who believe such faithfulness to be a subject suitable indeed for their public, and condescending, commendation of others, but not one for personal observance in their own private lives and public office.   Let us all, therefore, whatever our station in life, remember that the God we serve and the Saviour we follow:
Raises up the lowly from the dust, and from the dunghill He lifts up the poor, to seat them with princes, with the princes of His own people.
For, despite our differing earthly stations our responsibilities are all needful and obliging, because their reward is for the present blessing of the whole of our whole society, and will be ultimately for our own personal share in eternal glory.