Sunday 22 September 2019
Crisis demands a response
Amos 8:4-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13
By Duncan Macpherson
Features Editor, Roman Catholic Permanent Deacon, retired Lecturer in Theology at Saint Mary’s University, Twickenham
Context: a Sunday Eucharist in a mainly suburban parish; the congregation comprises people of all ages, from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds
Aim: to awaken a stronger sense of discipleship and an active concern for the poor
How do we respond in a crisis?
Crises demand a response. A sudden accident, a suspicious package, a house on fire —ring 999! Or maybe the crisis is more personal. You realise that you have run into the buffers and you are at a loss to know what to do next. In Luke’s Gospel, we heard about how a steward responds to a different kind of crisis. The meaning of this parable seems a bit obscure. Was Jesus praising the man for being dishonest or (more improbably) was the landowner praising the steward for cheating him? Or was the man being dishonest at all? Maybe he was simply cutting down on his own commission to gain favour with the peasants who would then feel that they owed him a debt of gratitude after he had lost his job. Anyway, ‘the master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness: For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light.’ The obvious lesson is that the followers of Jesus need to be as resourceful in spreading the kingdom as businessmen, shady or not, are in covering their backs in matters of finance.
A matter of trust
But the Gospel passage links he story with the more general theme of wealth. Economic justice is demanded. If we cannot sort out the problem of inequality between rich and poor, what chance do we have of making proper use of the much more important spiritual riches that Christ came to bring? If you cannot be trusted with money who will trust you with genuine riches?
It sounds more like a warning than good news: ‘No servant can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and money.’ But it is good news, because it is pointing to true riches. In psalm 19, we read about riches ‘more to be desired than gold, sweeter than honey from the honeycomb.’ As the 16th century saint and theologian, Robert Bellarmine put it: ‘What is easier, and more agreeable than to love goodness, beauty and love, all of which you are, O Lord my God.’
But loving God above all things, loving God more than money, means loving other people more than money too. It means being committed to working for justice and against poverty. We live today in a world in which millions of people live on less than a dollar a day and others produce more and consume more than they need. Amos was describing economic injustice 2 500 years ago, but some things do not change. We can still ‘buy up the poor for money and the needy for a pair of sandals.’
In the words of Pope Francis: ‘Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons… Free market economics has created a tyranny, in which people were valued only by their ability to consume.’ We can go into a local chain store and spend fifty pounds on a pair of shoes or sandals produced in a sweatshop in Asia where the worker receives only a few pence in payment — often under age, working in unsafe, unhealthy cramped conditions, denied the right to form a trades union or to go on strike—without the means of redress that the Church proclaims as basic human rights.
So, what do we do in this crisis? Pope Francis has called on world leaders to end the ‘cult of money’ and to do more for the poor, ‘Poverty is the flesh of the poor Jesus, in that child who is hungry, in the one who is sick, in those unjust social structures. We should pray for an end to the unjust exploitation of the poor in our world.’ Paul reminds us that we should pray for the decision makers, ‘prayers offered for everyone — petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving — and especially for kings and others in authority.’ We need to pray for all those with political authority so that they will always serve the cause of peace and justice. However, we can’t leave it to them. Prayer and almsgiving are important, but the social teaching of the Church makes clear that it is not enough. We need to campaign for justice for the world’s poor. ‘If you cannot be trusted with little things who will trust you with genuine riches?’
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