26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings are an invitation that go far beyond the fashionable pastime of bashing on the rich in the face of the world’s needs and problems. They remind us that complacency is not just an affliction of the rich: we all run the risk of being complacent, no matter how much is in our bank account, because we can be complacent in the use of our time and talent, not just our treasure.

The word of today’s First Reading could almost describe the day spas and boutiques of modern society, but should put couch potatoes on guard too. People with the wealth and the time to help society are couch potatoes too, just on fancier sofas with better meals and more expensive hobbies. Amos is warning the influential of Israel that the Assyrian’s threatening their nation will take them into exile right alongside their afflicted people if they don’t act. In referring to Joseph he is referring to the two main tribes of Israel at the time, who were descended from Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh (see The ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL 2008, 1670). Society was in trouble and they were doing nothing. The option to stop the party and get to work instead of having the party ended for them is in their hands. They opted to party and Israel was conquered and absorbed into the Assyrian Empire.

St. Paul in the Second Reading encourages St. Timothy, who is taking up the mantle of pastoral leadership, to strive for what is truly excellent in the eyes of the Lord, no couch involved. Timothy had worked closely with St. Paul and was now taking on the responsibilities of a bishop, a successor of the Apostles. His pursuits will be in great contrast to those of today’s First Reading: “devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” All these pursuits are not self-centered; they’re related to others and can be difficult to master. Paul encourages him to compete well for the faith, drawing from the athlete metaphors of his other letters to remind St. Timothy that he is called to discipline himself, to train, and to strain for the prize he should “lay hold” of: eternal life. As a bishop he’ll lay hold of eternal life by helping others attain it too.

The rich man in today’s Gospel converted too late, but his late conversion should be a lesson for us to consider that one day we may too hear those dreaded words, “too little, too late.” There may be people in the world who live in plush mansions with everything they could want, but the rich are not the only people in society today endangered by abundance. There are lots of couch potatoes out there who are parked on their sofas when they can do something to help make our world a better place.

The poor are not just at the gates of mansions; they’re in our towns and neighborhoods. It is our society that runs the risk of falling apart due to selfishness and sin. Each of us can take inventory of the plenty with which the Lord has blessed us and ask him how we can use that plenty in a way pleasing to him. A surplus of time, talent, or treasure should never stay a surplus for long, otherwise we run the risk of drowning in our abundance due to our complacency and apathy. Let’s ask Our Lord today to give us the nudge to get off our sofas and help shape society for the better.

Take stock of how much time you dedicate to leisure every week. There’s planned leisure and leisure that we fall into when we know we should be doing something else. How much time do you dedicate each week to bettering our world (not just your world; our world)? If you don’t have a regular commitment to outreach or works of evangelization (or both) it is time to start. If health problems prevent you from more direct action you can always pray and offer up your sufferings for the conversion of sinners.

Readings: Amos 6:1a, 4–7; Psalm 146:7–10; 1 Timothy 6:11–16; Luke 16:19–31. See also 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 2nd Week of Lent, Thursday.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s Gospel speaks of dishonest employees and employers, but the main point Our Lord wants to make today is that you can’t buy or sell friends.

In today’s First Reading the Lord, through the prophet Amos, laments the exact opposite of friendship: exploitation. The wicked see the Sabbath or religious holidays as keeping them from doing what they really want: do business and make money. Their wickedness goes deeper than just wanting to make money instead of giving the Lord his due: they cheat their neighbors by rigging the scales and other systems of measurement for trade. The worst of all is that they turn their neighbors into property, forgetting that the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt.

St. Paul invites us in today’s Second Reading to pray for those in authority over us, because when authority is abused it leads to strife. A quiet and tranquil life gives society the serenity to seek and find the Lord and serve each other. Society should seek the common good, and that good does not exclude the good of any individual, just as Our Lord wants every soul to be saved. In our dealings with the highest authority—Our Heavenly Father—Our Lord has interceded for us, showing his true friendship with us and teaching the friendship we should show our neighbors, whether they are in positions of authority or not.

At first glance the Gospel today can leave us perplexed. It seems that the rich man about to fire his untrustworthy steward is congratulating him for the very thing for which he is being fired: dishonest accounting. There’s no forgiveness going on here: the “prudence” that the rich man is acknowledging in his soon-to-be-former steward is the astuteness with which he saves his own skin at the expense of his soon-to-be-former boss. In Jesus’ time usury, an immoral marking up of the value of goods, was done by changing the quantities owed on invoices. The bills in those days never said, “50 measures of oil, plus a 50 measure ‘service fee’”; they just said, “you owe 100 measures of oil.” By doctoring the billing in this way, the rich man, with the help of his steward, was making a tidy profit while hiding his usury. When the steward sees he’s on his way out, he closes the books at their real value, not at the marked-up value benefiting his master: he’s turned the tables on his master in a way that wins him “friends” for his impending unemployment, and in a way in which his former master can’t touch him.

However, Jesus reminds us today that you can’t buy friends. Friendship based on what someone gains me is not true friendship. Maybe the steward will bounce around from “friend” to “friend,” but who is going to trust him knowing what he did to win their friendship? Dishonest wealth fails. Friendship is based on trust. As Jesus reminds us in the Gospel today, trust is something that must shine in all our actions, big and small. Trust means being at the service of your friend with no strings attached. Trust means I can rely on someone when the chips are down. Real friends show themselves in times of adversity.

Whenever we look upon a crucifix, we are reminded of a friend we’ve always been able to rely on, even when many times we haven’t returned the favor. The apostles, after so much quality time with Christ, abandoned him, but he didn’t turn the tables on them: he shouldered the burden and paid the bill with his life so that we would have eternal life, no strings attached. He could have just closed the books and left us all out in the cold, but he didn’t. What greater sign of friendship is there?

Christ can be acknowledged as a historical figure, Our Lord, Our Savior, and Our Redeemer. Do you recognize him as your best friend? He has shown you friendship in countless ways, making him worthy of your friendship. Don’t spurn it.

Readings: Amos 8:4–7; Psalm 113:1–2, 4–8; 1 Timothy 2:1–8; Luke 16:1–13. See also 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Friday and Saturday.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that in this life moments may come when we are down, but, as Our Lord reminds the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, with his help we are not out.

In today’s First Reading the freshly minted people of Israel falls into idolatry almost immediately after entering into a covenant with the Lord by making and worshiping a golden calf, something worthy of condemnation. The Lord had revealed himself to Moses and send Moses and Aaron to liberate them from Egypt and become a people. The Lord sounds out Moses about whether a “do over” was called for: should the idolaters be punished, and a new people be founded on Moses? It is a testimony to Moses’ famous humility that he did not accept the invitation to become another patriarch. It would have gone contrary to the promises he and the Israelites had heard for generations: countless descendants from the patriarchs and a land to call their own. The people of Israel were down, but, thanks Moses’ intercession and the Lord’s mercy, they weren’t out.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul recalls when he was down, but thanks to the Lord’s mercy he was not out. He remembered very well when he persecuted the Christians and, as a result, persecuted the Lord. We can only imagine how Our Lord looked down upon him as he took the completely wrong direction in life, persecuting the disciples. Paul was struck down on the road to Damascus because the direction he was taking was so mistaken that the Lord in his mercy chose to intervene. Paul could have gone down anonymously in history as just another sinner redeemed by Our Lord, but the Lord had bigger plans for him, making him an apostle and a witness to the fact that when we’re down we’re never out as long as we live.

The Pharisees and scribes criticized Jesus in the Gospel today because he is spending time with people who are sinners: tax collectors, who robbed them by charging unfair taxes and serving their Roman oppressors, and sinners, who did evil and did not come worship at the Temple. So Jesus asks the Pharisees and scribes to think of how happy they would be if they found something valuable that they’d lost.

Imagine if you lost your spending money for the week, and after searching and searching your locker you give up and take your books to class and there it is, stuck between two books! Wouldn’t you be happy? Imagine if you lost your cat and you searched for hours and hours and came home sad and suddenly heard him scratching at the door to be let in. Wouldn’t you be happy? Now imagine if it were your brother or sister or aunt or someone in your family who went missing. You would never stop looking. Never. You would always be waiting to hear from them.

In Heaven God knows that sinners are lost, and he wants to find them so badly, but they hide from him and go far away from him, just like the son in the Gospel today. Like the Father of the Prodigal Son, God waits and waits for them to come back. Our Lord teaches us that all of Heaven shouts for joy when a sinner is found and comes back and gets on the road to Heaven again. Our Lord goes to the sinners in the Gospel today because if he doesn’t help them find God the Father again, they will never find him. Like the son today in the Gospel, they go far away and become poor and miserable, but when they come back, sorry for what they have done, all of Heaven is happy and God welcomes them back as if nothing had happened.

When we hurt others, it is so hard to say we are sorry, but when we don’t, we are left poor, alone, and lonely, because it is like we have left someone in our family. The other son in the Gospel today didn’t want to forgive his brother and look how angry and alone he was. The Prodigal Son, the tax collectors, and the sinners in today’s Gospel were all down, but the Lord was ready to pull them back onto their feet again.

When we do bad things, all we have to do is say we’re sorry and ask God to forgive us. It is not complicated, even though it may be costly at times. Go have a good Confession for the big things. For the little daily things, just tell him (and whoever else you’ve hurt) that you are sorry. If you remain down in this life (and the next, for that matter) it is because you didn’t take the Lord’s extended hand to pull you back onto your feet.

Readings: Exodus 32:7–11, 13–14; Psalm 51:3–4, 12–13, 17, 19; 1 Timothy 1:12–17; Luke 15:1–32. See also 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C2nd Week of Lent, Saturday, and 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

At first glance it may seem that in today’s Gospel Jesus is asking his disciples to burn their bridges, but if we look a little more closely we can see he’s inviting them to “do the math,” to go from a worldly, calculating idea of love and happiness to a liberating one founded on humility, faith, and trust.

It may seem illogical that the Lord would ask us to abandon our family, our health, our security, and our comfort to follow him, but when we read the words of today’s First Reading, we see the “logic” that goes contrary to that invitation break down. When we try to find the answers to the big questions—life, death, love, our calling in this life—we see that the cut and dry business or scientific approach doesn’t work. The big questions escape our categories, experience, and observation, and with such big mysteries looming over our heads, mysteries that seem to decide our fate, our hearts yearn for freedom. Our Lord in today’s Gospel is offering us those answers and that freedom. He asks us to have faith and trust in him

Onesimus, the escaped slave whom Paul mentions in today’s Second Reading, sought freedom from his master, Philemon, but Onesimus found a far greater freedom in the end. In the time of ancient Rome, slaves were a big percentage of the population. Slavery resulted from debts or being on the wrong end of a war. Slave labor was so needed in ancient Roman society that they were a social class of their own. Rome took escapees very seriously, and Onesimus got caught, but the Lord let him get caught so he could experience a true freedom, with the help of St. Paul, whom he met in prison. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon with the letter, a part of which we consider in today’s Second Reading, to be Christ’s instrument of liberation: a liberation of love. Paul urges Philemon to see Onesimus now as more than a servant, more than a piece of property. Paul invites him to see Onesimus as the Lord wants him to be seen: a brother.

After inviting his disciples in the first part of today’s Gospel to take of their crosses and follow him, the Lord invites them in the second part to “do the math:” to think about what they’re trying to build in their life, like the tower builder, and what battle they’re ready to wage against life’s challenges, like the king. When we follow Christ, our families, our sufferings, our very selves will experience, like Onesimus (and, hopefully, Philemon) a liberation of love When we follow Christ, those we love will also seek in him the answers to the big questions of life that go beyond their “math” too. However, we must put Christ first in our lives. That can hurt us and our family a lot, but when we put our calculations aside, when we face the unknown trusting in Christ, we show him we are following him, and he never leads us astray.

When you consider how you love and who you love, does it feel constraining and confining to you, or liberating? When you love, do you condition it based on the love you have received (or lack thereof)? When we focus on the trouble loving causes us it shows us the disordered love from which the Lord wants to liberate us: egotistical love. If you make an effort to put the Lord and others first in your life, even if it implies renunciation and discomfort, you will experience a liberation of love.

Readings: Wisdom 9:13–18b; Psalm 90:3–6, 12–14, 17; Philemon 9–10, 12–17; Luke 14:25–33. See also 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C31st Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday and 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.