Today’s Gospel tells us of the “unjust steward” who gets in trouble with his master for not doing a good job with his stewardship. This reading is a good opportunity to reflect on just what it means to be a steward. A steward is someone who in charged with the care of someone else’s property. We often describe the use of our time, talent, and treasure as an act of stewardship. This is a fitting word because we should realize that everything we have has been entrusted to us by God. It’s not really ours. We are stewards, caretakers, of the gifts given to us by God. The unjust steward in the Gospel makes the mistake of thinking that the master will not hold him accountable for his stewardship. We need to make sure that we don’t take this attitude with God. He too will one day demand a full accounting of our stewardship.
St. Paul cautions us today about judging our brothers and sisters. If you’ve ever tried to help someone who was doing something harmful to themselves, perhaps you’ve been reminded of this as the person demands that you stop judging them (not that they’re judging you of course). The word the Paul uses for judging would actually be better translated as “condemning.” We shouldn’t presume to know the state of one’s soul. With that having been said, there are plenty of times when we are called to correct our brothers and sisters out of charity. This is one of the spiritual works of mercy after all. The trick is to be careful and make sure that if you’re going to try to help someone that you are really acting out of love…and then try to be thankful when the tables are turned.
Recognizing Death as Our Enemy that We Might Rejoice in Victory
Sometimes we try to pretend that death isn’t really all that bad. When a loved one dies we may try to reassure ourselves with the consolation that “they’re in a better place.” We may even think that we should feel happy for them. While it is true that death is not the end and that it is the doorway to eternal life, we should not be so quick to try to put a happy face on death. Death is not simply “a natural part of life” as we sometimes hear. St. Paul tells us that death came through sin. Death was not part of God’s plan. Death is our enemy. We have to understand death as our enemy to fully understand just how wonderful it is that Jesus has saved us. To be saved, you have to be saved from something, and that something is death, a real enemy.
In the light of our Christian faith and the knowledge of the victory won for us in Jesus, we can indeed have hope even in the face of death. Yet, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still grieve. Death presents us with mixed emotions and that is as it should be. Today we mourn for the loss of the physical presence of our departed brothers and sisters and we pray for the repose of their souls. Yet, we mourn as those who have hope. We know that death is not the end. We know that life will be victorious.
In our first reading at Mass today, St. Paul shows clearly that he never saw himself as having given up being a Jew to be a Christian. Similarly, to be a good Christian today, you really have to understand our Jewish history. As Pope Pius XII once said, “Spiritually, we are all Semites.” In our Catholic liturgy, we continue pray for and revere our Jewish brothers and sisters as “the first to hear the word of God.” Jesus came to fulfill all the the law and prophets foretold, but God did not begin some radical new story with Jesus. Jesus come right in the middle of a story that God had been writing for a very long time. The New Testament is not so much a new story as the next chapter in a very old story.
In light of this, Christians should do all we can first to learn the story of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. Secondly, we should could continue to have great respect for the Jewish people. Sometimes, people wrongly try to blame “Jews” for killing Jesus. This is ridiculous. Not all Jews at the time of Jesus and certainly none of the Jews living today had anything to do with the death of Jesus. Jesus was killed because of our sins. There is no place for anti-Semitism among Christians.
Finally, in our modern world, it is important that we keep separate the religious notion of God’s chosen people Israel and the man-made political state of Israel. Too often, Christians are guilty of supporting the state of Israel in anything it does, no matter how unjust, in a false notion that somehow these are “God’s chosen people.” If it helps, consider that 75% of the “Jews” living in Israel don’t even believe in God yet alone practice their faith; they call themselves “secular Jews.” Then remember that all of the Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinians! While the United States might have good reason to support Israel politically, the religious reasons are far less solid.
St. Paul struggles to maintain both his Jewish and Christian identity. As Christians, we could do well to get in touch with our roots and realize our own Jewishness.
The theological virtue of hope is the virtue that causes us to desire heaven. St. Paul reminds us that no one hopes for something that he already has. Hope keeps us constantly looking forward toward the life to come. This is especially important when life is difficult and we might be tempted toward despair. This life is not all there is and thank God for that. Why do we often struggle so much with lack of hope, with a lack of desire for heaven. Pope Benedict observed in his second encyclical on hope that we often tend to think of heaven as merely a continuation of this present life going on forever. Who would hope for that! Heaven is infinitely greater than anything we can conceive of in this life. Let us ask God to give us an increase in the virtue of hope that we may have a great desire for heaven.
There is a lot of debate about the Sabbath in Scripture as we see in today’s readings. Today, we have almost lost the concept of the Sabbath rest. Why should we rest? Well, the point of the rest was always to remind us of why we work. If we continue to work every day and just do different kinds of work on Sunday, we will soon forget what the work is all about. We will come to think that the work that we do here on earth is our primary goal. Yet, our primary goal is really heaven. When we take a day off from work, we remind ourselves that this world is not what we are working for. This world is passing away. We work in this world with our eyes fixed on the world to come. The Sabbath rest should help us keep this balance right if we practice it faithfully.
After a long exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah brings good news to the Israelites in our first reading today. It’s was time to go back to the promised land! However, he says something very interesting. He says that they were going to be taking the blind, the lame, mothers and women pregnant with children along with them. The journey back to the holy land was a long a difficult one and it would have been tempting to leave the blind and the lame and pregnant women behind. After all, they would just slow everyone else down. God reminds the people that all of these people, especially these marginalized people, were part of his family. God would not allow anyone to be left behind, no matter how much of a “burden” people might have wrongly considered them to be.
A similar thing happens in our Gospel today. Notice where we find the blind man…on the side of the road. He is calling out and the people try to get him to be quiet. They just want him to stay in his place on the side of the road, on the margin. Jesus breaks in as is typical in the Gospel and shows that this blind man is part of his mission and part of his family. Jesus will not allow anyone to be marginalized from the family of God, especially not those who society considers not to have much value.
We continue to do the same things today. We tend to value people more for their use to us and what they can contribute to society. We fail to recognize the dignity of every human person that comes from their being created by God. How often do we hear a child conceived unexpectedly referred to as “unwanted” or a “burden” who is just getting in the way of someone else’s plans. We are currently hearing a lot about how old people at the end of their lives are costing us too much money for all their expensive health care. We make them feel that they are burdens and ask if maybe we couldn’t just leave them behind and “let them die” so we can more easily get on to where it is we think we need to be.
It’s not hard to imagine how Jesus feels about this. To show how important human dignity is, Jesus took on our own human nature. He became one of us and had a special care for those that society considered useless or burdensome. He continues to do so today. He asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” If Jesus, who is God, can have the humility to ask this question, then perhaps we too can find some people by the side of the road in our life and ask them the same question.
In order to help foster a better understanding and commitment to stewardship of God’s many gifts, the Hayden High School media club helped produce a video featuring many of the local Topeka priests (even me!) talking about stewardship. All the parishes in Topeka are doing our annual stewardship commitment renewal at the same time this year and the theme “Revealing God’s Presence in Topeka” has been chosen for this effort. At the heart of stewardship is a spirit of thanksgiving. Everything we have is a gift from God. Many thanks to the students at Hayden who helped create the video and to the priests, principals and others featured. May God bless our parishes with a spirit of thankfulness and generosity through this effort.
In our struggle to do good and avoid evil as we go through life, we can sometimes start to think that God is keeping track of all the bad we do in some kind of accounting system. We act as though the goal is to try to have enough good things in the book to balance out all the bad so that, hopefully in the end, everything comes close to zero. This we think will then earn us entrance into heaven. This creates a big problem. We’ve got to remember that God is not our accountant…he is our Father.
If we try to make everything “balance out” in life in a strict legalistic kind of way, we will never make it and we will be miserable. St. Paul reminds us that Jesus has won freedom for us. We are no longer slaves of the law and he reminds us that we need not live as slaves to our passions, what he calls “the flesh.” Rather we should live in the freedom of “the spirit.” The psalm from today best sums up the attitude we should have as we go through life in this freedom, “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”
Heaven is not about accounting and reward, but about relationship. On earth we should live with a longing to be in relationship with God, to grow in love with God. If we live with this longing, even though we may not be perfect, we will get what we desire. We will see the face of God forever in heaven. That adds up pretty well in my book.