You cannot serve God and Money.

November 5, 1999: Romans 15, 14-21 + Luke 16, 1-8

November 6, 1999: Romans 16, 3-9 + Luke 16, 9-15

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These two days readings bring to a close the lectionary's survey of Paul's theological exposition in Romans. Paul is a missionary apostle, he "aspires" to preach the Word where it has not gone before. He does not want to come to Rome to make his home there, but rather to stop there on his way to preach in Spain (at that time, Spain was considered the westernmost limit of the world). He emphasizes his mission to the Gentiles, bringing them to the God of his fathers, "by the power of signs and wonders."

Saturday's reading is of Paul's greetings to the Church in Rome. He sends his blessings to men and to women, to Jews and to Gentiles, reminding us and them of the universality of the Gospel call, and how it transcends our human divisions.

Luke gives us one of the more puzzling parables of Jesus -- that of the dishonest steward -- together with the application of the parable to a particular situation. At first reading, it almost seems as though Jesus was condoning dishonesty. But like many parts of sacred scripture, which was given to the world in a specific human cultural context, this parable is illumined by an understanding of the business management practices of the time. Typically, a steward -- or manager -- received his compensation by taking on his percentage to whatever business the master was doing through him.

This particular steward had not been a good manager, he had squandered his master's property. So faced with imminent dismissal, he decides he is going to need some friends. So he goes to the people he has done business with for his master, and removes his percentage from their agreements. This does them a good service, and since the man is about to be unemployed, he is going to need all the friends he can get. One of its lessons, then, is appropriate use of one's material possessions in the face of an impending crisis.

Saturday's gospel draws this application further, and suggests that how we use our material wealth has implications for what we will receive as heavenly wealth. And there are some other hidden gems here. Jesus refers to material wealth as a small thing, this is the exact opposite of how we tend to think about things. The altars of the Almighty Dollar have more devotees these days than do the altars of the Eucharist.

Today we also read the famous quote -- no one can serve two masters, you will hate one and love the other. Nobody can serve God and money. Then as now, the religious hypocrites who heard this hard saying "sneered" at Him. Jesus responds, "what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God."

This passage is often used to promote stewardship and condemn materialism, but it also has application for the Church itself. What is true for a man or a woman is also true for the Church -- the Church will either serve God, or it will serve Money, and it cannot do both. The "preferential option" of the Gospel is for the poor, but all too often, our preferential option is for the rich and the powerful.

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