Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Extraordinary Form
July 10, 2016
Rom 8:12-17, Lk 16:1-9
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans stresses that the most important decision we make in life is whether we are going to live according to the Holy Spirit or according to the flesh. It’s a choice with consequences not only for our happiness in this world but forever. Right before this passage, he says that those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh. They place their faith, hope and love in money and what money can buy. Their hearts are set on the things of this world, on earthly pleasures, power, vanity, fame, and passing luxuries. In his letter to the Galatians he lists the behaviors that flow from living according to the flesh: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. And he stresses that “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21). They won’t inherit the kingdom because, as he writes to the Romans, those who live according to the flesh do not “submit to the law of God” and “cannot please God” since, basically, they’re not even trying to please God but please themselves. St. Paul stresses, on the other hand, that Christ died and rose to fill us with his Spirit, and if the Holy Spirit dwells in us, the Spirit will help us to live a new, risen life just like Jesus. That’s why he tells us today, in words that are fundmamental for the Christian life, “Consequently, brothers, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” Rather, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” By Christ’s resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, God has made possible for us to truly as Christians, to live as beloved sons and daughters of God the Father, to seek the things that are above, the things that are of God, and to seize the eternal treasure in Christ of which God has made us heirs. In order to do this, however, we need to “put to death the deeds of the body,” we need to mortify the temptation to live according to the flesh, so that we can live according to God’s help and inspirations.
- Today in the Gospel, Jesus makes the same point, stressing that we, in a brutal, cutthroat, bottom-line manner, need to make the choice to stop living according to the flesh and begin living fully for the things of God. He does so by means of what for many Catholics is the most confusing parable in the Gospel, what’s popularly called the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, something that can get some people to wonder whether Truth incarnate is praising a crooked business manager for deception, whether he who gave us the commandment “Thou shalt not steal” is himself praising someone for violating it. But Jesus is doing no such thing. But in order to grasp what Jesus was and was not saying and what the crucial lesson is for us, we first need to understand something about the way loans were done in the ancient world.
- In the Parable, a manager is about to get sacked because he was squandering the property of his business owner. His boss gave him his pink slip and told him to do an audit of the books prior to his dismissal. So the man called in those mostly tenant farmers who owed his employer money or items and reduced their debts considerably. At first glance, this seems like dishonesty, like he was allowing these debtors to steal from his boss, but it wasn’t. In the ancient world, the way loans were conducted was that the manager or broker would be paid by adding on something to what was borrowed, rather than a percentage taken out of the master’s proceeds. For example, if someone borrowed 50 denarii or 50 barrels of oil, he would have to pay back the 50 to the master and another 10 — or 30 or 50 — to the broker, whatever the broker thought he could get. This dishonest steward was probably tacking on way too big of a commission, and, in order to maximize his profits, was probably, like Fannie and Freddie in our own times, lending out the master’s property to very bad risks, allowing people on the Master’s fields who were going to waste it rather than produce. Hence, when the manager called in those who owed, for example, 100 containers of wheat, and reduced the amount to 80, what he was almost assuredly doing was eliminating most or all of his commission. Therefore, he wasn’t really allowing them to steal from the owner; he was eliminating his own take. Faced with the decision of saving his life by making friends who would take care of him after he was fired or trying to hold out to the end onto the possibility of making money via these commissions, he chose to save his life. His master — and Jesus through the master in the Parable — calls this prudent and wise.
- What’s the application to us? Jesus wants us to examine whether we are in the place of that dishonest steward. God has given each of us tremendous gifts on the basis of which we have made profits, or tried to make profit. He has given us our hands, which we use to work. He has given us our brains, which we use to think. He has given us our families and friends, our education, our lives, and so many other blessings. With these gifts, we have profited and made a manifold commission. But have we been using those gifts fundamentally to build up our kingdom or to build up the Master’s? Have we used them to live according to the flesh or according to the Spirit? If we have been living selfishly according to the flesh until now, if we’ve been squandering his gifts on the things of this world, Jesus gives us this parable in order to help us to see that our time is coming to an end and that we need to prepare an accounting. He wants us, like the steward in the Gospel, to start to sacrifice our commissions, our possessions, our time, for others so that we might be taken care of in return — so that they may remember us, and then be our supporters and welcome us into, as Jesus says, “eternal homes.” The implication is that if we don’t want to do the right thing simply because it is right, if we don’t want to love others because we’re Christian or we have good heart, then at least we should do it because it is in our eternal best interest. Either we care for the poor and needy, as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia is accustomed to say, or we go to hell. Like the steward in the parable, we are faced with the choice between trying to keep our profits and trying to save our lives. We cannot take money or possessions with us as we go. The only thing that fits through the “eye of the needle” (Lk 18:25) are acts of love. All earthly mammon will eventually turn out to be no more valuable than monopoly money. He wants us to remember always that the poor and needy are our eternal money exchangers, who take earthly currency and turn it into something moths can’t eat, rust corrode, or the IRS can’t confiscate in inheritance taxes. Jesus wants us to be as wise in the spiritual realm as greedy businessmen are in the material realm. If we use whatever God has given us in this world to take care of others, at our judgment and after it, they will be among those in heaven who welcome us into the eternal home of heaven. Jesus will turn to us and tell us that whatever we did for them, he took personally: “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
- Jesus says immediately after today’s Gospel that the “children of this age” are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than “the children of light.” What he was saying is that people who are worldly are often much more “prudent” than believers when it comes to making choices that concern their survival. Business owners, if they know that a certain practice is losing them money, try to fix it right away. If they can’t, they eliminate it. They know that in order to survive, they’ve got to cut their losses, otherwise they’ll end up in chapter 11. Christians, however, when we know that a certain thing is losing us God’s grace, seldom act in such a decisive and intelligent way. Even though such a serious sin might send us into eternal bankruptcy, we often don’t get rid of it. Jesus instructs us to act with bottom-line brutality in the Sermon on the Mount, but few of us follow this advice: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell” (Mt 5:29-30). The failure to cut out sinful behavior from our lives is, for Jesus, simply stupid. Sinning in such a way is cooperating with the devil, and that would be like a businessman’s employing someone whom he knows will steal from him and try to destroy his business.
- In this story, Jesus is essentially telling us to use our heads, to be smart about our salvation. Jesus’ words today are like a top notch group of business consultants who come in to analyze a failing business, find out where the inefficiencies are and design a business plan not only to save the company but make it thrive; but the key is not just in the information, in knowing what needs to be done, but in having the wisdom, courage and resolve to implement that plan. That’s what Jesus is proposing to us today, with urgency. Unlike in the parable, when we meet him face-to-face, we’ll have no time to return to try to fix things. We have to fix them now. If we’ve been selfish with our gifts, if we haven’t been putting God first, if we have been neglecting those left in ditches on the side of the road, the time is now to use our heads to do so. If we’ve been trying to compromise with a sin, with something that is obviously wrong but which we’re trying to deny, the time is now to change. Now is the time for us to be as shrewd about storing up for ourselves heavenly wealth as Warren Buffet or Ray Dalio are to increase their fortunes here on earth. We cannot serve both God and mammon. We cannot worship God and the Golden Calf. We cannot be led by the Spirit and at the same time materialistic consumers. We cannot be sons and daughters of the eternal Father and seek the inheritance offered by the prince of the world. Just as the steward in the parable couldn’t try to keep all his commissions and win the favor of those who owed him, so we must choose between storing up treasure and pleasure in this world, or using everything we have in this world to store up eternal treasure and happiness in the next. This is a choice the Rich Young Man was presented by Jesus and sadly refused to take. Today Jesus out of love offers us the same deal urging us to seize it and obtain the pearl of great price.
- The Lord who calls us to live by the Spirit as true children of God is prepared to give us all the help he knows we need to do so. He is about to feed us with himself, the greatest treasure in the world, and to send the same Holy Spirit who will soon convert bread and wine into his Body and Blood to renew us in our divine filiation so that we might truly call out “Abba, Father!” and live in accordance with that dignity. Today as we prepare to receive him, we ask him to grant us that help he knows we need to live as wise children of the light, to imitate his own wisdom and way of life, so that, when it comes time for us to render an account of all the blessings of life he has given us, he may praise us eternally for acting shrewdly and, together with all those we’ve helped through sharing God’s generosity as good and faithful stewards, we may be welcomed by him into his eternal home!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
From the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans (Rom 8:12-17)
Consequently, brothers, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “ Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
The Continuation of the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (Lk 16:1-9)
Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ The steward said to himself, “What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”