Sep 19, 2010

25th Sunday - God or mammon: the choice?


Amos 8: 4-7
1 Timothy 2: 1-8
Luke 16: 1-13

Fresh home from a nine day pilgrimage with a group of parishioners, and slowly getting over jet lag and back into the synch of life here, I look upon the Gospel for this Sunday, the 25th in Ordinary Time, and I feel moved to share a bit of what we experienced. The center piece of our journey to Austria and Germany was the famed, every ten year, Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany. We sat among a crowd of 5,000 people from around the world and witnessed this amazing presentation on the last week in the life of Jesus Christ. It was much more than a play or a show or a production – this was an experience of faith. The beautiful presentation, the inspiring music and words, to the costumes, the sets, and the actors, produced a faith event. In its length of more than five hours and its conclusion with the resurrection, one is left overwhelmed by the majesty of it all.

How I see this tying in to our readings, was the portrayal of Jesus in that Passion Play. Judas, the high priests, and Jesus himself all were superb. The deep controversy Jesus caused among the religious leaders of his time was made crystal clear. Jesus died because he was a challenge, a threat, to the status quo. He confronted the hypocrisy and emptiness of false expectations so his teaching was revolutionary. Such blindness to God's way, is a dead end road. The greatest threat upon us is of course our sin, and Jesus’ death and resurrection brought us the possibility of forgiveness and a new direction for life.

The Gospel for this Sunday from Luke 16: 1-13, certainly makes a point that I don’t think should be missed by those who see no difference between God’s blessing and prosperity. Jesus states: “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and espies the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Now, what the heck is “mammon?” We may understand it to be money, prosperity, the pursuit of wealth, possessions, and over all the general “stuff” of life. Now, it is true we all need “stuff” to live. Jesus is not praising poverty here. It strikes me that he is warning us about the lure of riches and possessions. We have heard this warning before and yet we continue to be attracted by the newest, the latest, the shiniest, the loudest, the biggest, the fanciest, the fastest, etc. So, when we’re not happy with what we have, for example, we buy more stuff. Think about the last time you felt bored, sad, or depressed. What did you do? Go shopping? Look for something new? Be honest. I know because I fall into the same desire.

Jesus controversial teaching challenges the perception that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing. Often prosperity is a sign of good management, trained business skills, wise investment, restrained spending, or just plain luck. None of which, in themselves, are a bad thing.

But, it takes a lot of time and energy to carefully monitor ones possessions. We find ourselves spending time in service to our own dreams. After all, we have them because we don’t want to be without them. We carefully manage our money or treasures in order to make more money or build more treasures and not loose what we have.
Jesus suggests that the endless, single minded pursuit of wealth and more “stuff,” even when I have more than I need to be comfortable is tantamount to idol worship. The steward in the longer version of the Gospel is praised for his clever and imaginative business dealings which become beneficial to him. The problem with the example is that Jesus states he was dishonest – but still he praises him. He states: “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” In other words, if the crafty of this world, in spite of their dishonesty, are successful, how much more will the disciples of Jesus be if they take the time to be clever, inventive and hard working in the pursuit of their spiritual life – their service to God.

God doesn’t just hand something to us on a platter and say – “Here’s everything you need. You don’t need to do anything, just take it.” Success in our prayer life, our service of God and all that implies, is the result of God’s grace in our life and our response, our efforts, to grow in his spirit. If we spend all our time in the pursuit of wealth, power, prestige, success, then we have scant time for God. Its fine to be successful – the reward of hard work and ingenuity.

But, our greatest treasure is the life of the spirit we are all called to pursue. What is our reward for service to the things of God? – Holiness and a more true sense of the limitations of more and more stuff. God offers us a wining lottery ticket everyday if we would just take it. For such challenging teachings, Jesus upset the social norms of his day but in the end brought us a new vision of life. The vision of God.

The Eucharist is our greatest treasure – God himself in our midst. Do we honestly perceive it for its richness or are we too busy with the mammon in our lives?