Amos 8: 4-7; Luke 16: 1-13
If we look at the Gospels in their totality, in many ways you can sum them up in the phrase we are all familiar, “comfort the afflicted while afflicting the comforted.” It becomes a two-edged sword in many ways and Jesus is the master at doing both at the same time, simply by showing God’s endless love. Throughout the gospels he is keen as to how the Pharisees have abused their power, rather than being good stewards of the law, and how the weight of it was put on those who couldn’t defend themselves. Jesus recognizes the hurt, the need for healing, love, compassion, that at times, was inflicted on the people. Through stories, parables like today, miracles, and healing, Jesus’ message cuts with that double-edged sword, even to the cross which carries that same message.
Fast forward 2,000 years we now have this Pope Francis who is creating quite the stir the past six months and even more so this week with this interview that he did with the Jesuits. He too recognizes the hurt in the world, often inflicted by the Institution that he now leads, that has scattered people. Power has been abused. People have been hurt in many different ways and desperately in need of God’s mercy and love. For those, he is a magnet; people are drawn to him because of his authenticity, his message of God’s mercy, and his embrace of all people. However, if you follow Church politics, you know not all are impressed with the approach. He is often challenging us, the insiders who have been a part of this all our lives, because it’s forcing us to look at God and the Church in an expanded way, embracing more than just dogma and doctrine. He carries the burden of carrying that double-edged sword.
The gospel we hear today carries that message and is read in light of the gospel we heard last week of the Prodigal Son. No one responds to Jesus until the passage that follows this parable of the crafty steward. Needless to say, the combination of the prodigal and the crafty steward leaves the Pharisees squirming and more emblazoned towards Jesus. We know the story from last week of the younger son who breaks all the norms of what the Pharisees have come to expect, and yet, the Father goes out after the son to bring him home and into the fold. Regardless of what he had done, there is still the possibility of a change of heart. The same is true of the dishonest steward in today’s gospel. None of us knows why Jesus says what he does other than in light of the prodigal son. The dishonest steward is commended for his prudence despite breaking all the rules that everyone had come to expect. With the Pharisees looking and listening to all of this, you can imagine their reaction. What the law says, the law says is their approach, but what Jesus says, is that the law is important, but it must always be coupled with compassion and mercy. When it stands alone it becomes a burden and is often abused, as it is with the pharisees. As stewards of the law, there is even a greater expectation for them to recognize that burden in carrying the gift. Rather than the dishonest steward losing his life, as should have been according to the law, he is commended for his prudence. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for his actions; he still loses his job, but it is held in the embrace of a compassionate master.
Amos is even more stern on that message to the rich and those called to be stewards of their wealth. Their chomping at the bit to take advantage of the poor and needy and Amos is very aware of what’s going on. He warns them about the responsibility of the wealth that they have been given and the responsibility of this gift. Again, it is so easy to place the burden on others and to abuse the power when we become focused simply on self-interest or in remaining comfortable in our own lives, rather than seeking out a change of heart and being aware of the welfare of our brothers and sisters who often feel the weight of that burden and that abuse.
Both Jesus and Pope Francis are about changing hearts. Both know that law and dogma and doctrine are important; it helps us to navigate through life and brings some semblance of order in our lives, but it doesn’t change hearts, and if it isn’t changing hearts, there is a greater burden on the responsibility to not be abused and to not be good stewards of the gift given. It always must be coupled with compassion. We are that younger son and the dishonest steward, neither of which lose their life, but rather, encounter a God that is so crazy in love with them that we live in hope that hearts may be changed and true life will be brought forth. We pray today that we may be aware of the gifts that we are stewards of in our lives and to know the responsibility that comes with it, whether it’s the law or wealth or whatever the gift may be for us. The message carries that weight of being a double-edged sword for us as well and we must constantly be aware not to abuse the power given and cause even further hurt in people’s lives. Even if we do, though, and at times we too will sway, we run back and allow the Father to embrace us, love us, change us and to see the face of a God that is so crazy in love with each one of us regardless of where we are on this faith journey; but just as important, to respect where others are at on their journey and are just as free to accept God’s crazy love in their lives when ready!