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Sunday Scripture: the standards of heaven

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By Father Tim Schehr

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Amos 8:4-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13

Amos is a favorite among the Minor Prophets. His vivid images and powerful words make his oracles especially memorable. Who can forget his opening tirade against the nations…”For three crimes and for four…”  God likens Amos to a plumb line held up against a crooked wall, a fitting image for a prophet whose task is to make sure the people are lined up with the standards of heaven.

Amos the moral plumb line makes very apparent the crooked ways of the wicked in the first reading for this Sunday. The prophet takes on those who oppress the poor. From God’s viewpoint, these poor are of inestimable value. The prophet calls them “the pride of Jacob.” But there are some in Israel who look for every opportunity to take advantage of their less fortunate brothers and sisters.

In the Israelite calendar, the new moon and the Sabbath were days to give thanks to God for the gift of all the other days of the week or month, time for engaging in ordinary human endeavors. But the people Amos targets here are so spiritually dead they regard a holy days as nothing more than an interference in their pursuit of money. They cannot wait to get back to their cheating and injustice, all to gain earthly riches.

The Amos reading is a good lead-in for this Sunday’s parable. Jesus is once again talking to His disciples. It is clear from the sequel to this passage (Luke 16:14-15) that some money-lovers among the Pharisees were listening too. The parable is unique to Luke and comes as a bit of a shocker. Jesus holds up for His listeners the example of a crafty manager who has been enriching himself at the expense of his employer. Then the employer suddenly insists on an audit that exposes the manager’s corrupt ways. Faced with dismissal, the manager decides to pay out of his own dishonest gain some of the debt owned by others. That way they will be inclined to help him in his time of need.

At first it seems Jesus is condoning the unprincipled ways of the manager. But His point is to teach a lesson about initiative. Worldly people like this devious manager know how to use earthly things to make friends in this world with others like themselves. Jesus wants His disciples to take the initiative to do good for others with the things of this world. That way they will be received in the court of heaven. The riches of this world are elusive. We can claim them as our own, but they really belong to God the creator. So why not make use of God’s gifts in this world to make ourselves welcome in the next?

Jesus puts the matter clearly in the closing verses. A servant who tries to please two masters with opposing interests will ultimately come to failure. Likewise, the disciple of the Lord cannot surrender themselves to the love of this world and the love of the kingdom of heaven at the same trim. It is far better to take a realistic look at life and serve a kingdom that will not pass away.

In the second reading, Paul gives Timothy some sound advice along these same lines. He urges his associate, now a spiritual shepherd with a flock of his own, to devote him to spiritual riches. His list of such riches includes prayers, petitions, intercessions, and gratitude. If Timothy devotes himself to these he will find true peace, found on piety and dignity. He has the Lord as his model. Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all. Paul has been privileged to be the Lord’s herald and apostle, teaching the truth of the Gospel to the nations. He wants to see hands raised in prayer and not hands raised in hatred and dissension.

Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio. 

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