Friday, September 20, 2013

If Christians Were Only More Enterprising about Discipleship

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Luke 16:1-13, September 22, 2013

IN THE LATTER part of his Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx says that philosophers have hitherto explained the world; the point, however, is to change it.  The maxim might well be paraphrased and applied to being Christian.  To be Christian, it is not enough to explain the world in terms of Christian faith; it is more important to use that faith in changing the world.  It is appalling to note that many people see what is wrong with our world today, but even as Christians, they do not do anything to contribute to the transformation of the world so that it may conform to the Christian vision.  They are satisfied with their own lives, living isolated existence untouched by what is happening around them.  This, however, is far removed from the teaching of the Church.  As Vatican II, in Gaudium et spes, notes, the Christian community is truly and intimately linked with the world and its history.  And the 1971 Synod of Bishops, in Justice in the World, even says that participation in the transformation of the world is a constitutive dimension of the Church’s mission.

            In changing the world, the Christian knows of course that it must begin with the change of attitude of people who maintain the world.  After all, economic, cultural and political structures are simply consequences of human outlook and attitudes. In the 2nd Reading (1 Tim 2:1-8), St Paul speaks of leading “undisturbed and tranquil lives in perfect piety and dignity” (v 2) which, in his own cultural context and time, could be achieved by peaceful relationship with the Emperor and those in authority (vv 1-2); but in our own context, we can lead really peaceful lives if we are able to acquire outlook and values that are not foreign to Christian ones.  At present, the world is still far removed from authentic tranquility because many people still think that happiness and undisturbed life can be secured by making a god out of money.   But far from bringing us peaceful lives, such an outlook brings about the opposite.   As Paul observes in the same letter, “those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and a trap.  They are letting themselves be captured by foolish and harmful desires which drag men down to ruin and destruction.  The love of money is the root of all evil.  Some men in their passion for it have strayed from the faith, and have come to grief amid great pain (1 Tim 6:9-10).

            The 1st Reading (Amos 8:4-7) provides us some examples of the staggering toll when one has such an outlook and makes accumulation of wealth the purpose of his existence.  It leads to unscrupulousness and dishonesty: “We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating” (v 5b) (Which reminds us of the trader who keeps his thumbs on the scale!)  It brings about injustice against the poor: “We will buy the lowly man for silver, the poor man for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sale” (v 6).  It virtually results in the thought that religion is an obstacle to making money: “When will the new moon be over and the Sabbath that we may display the wheat?” (v 5a).  Today, the effects of such an attitude are even more lamentable.  In his Centesimus annus, John Paul II speaks of the radical capitalist ideology which is unconcerned about marginalization and exploitation of the poor.  And the Bishops of the Philippines see these words realized in what is happening at present: jobless growth, without new opportunities for employment; ruthless growth, benefiting mainly the wealthy; voiceless growth, without extension of democracy or empowerment; rootless growth that causes cultural identities to wither; futureless growth that destroys the environment (CBCP, Exhortation on the Philippine Economy).

            For Christians, the message is clear: if we, as individuals and as community, wish to live tranquil lives, we should stick to the Good News: God is One, and One also is the mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5).  At the heart of our lives is thus the One and Only God, and therefore we cannot substitute another god, the money-god.  The proper attitude to life is to place God above everything else, and our chief concern is not how to further accumulate wealth, but how to lead a life that is pleasing to God. The pattern of that kind of life is given in the life of Jesus himself—he gave himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:5).  Once we make the One and Only God our true God in life, once we make the life of Jesus the pattern for our lives—one that is lived for the sake of others—then salvation and tranquility of life are possible. 

In such a life, what happens to our wealth?  It ceases to be an end; on the contrary, it will be used in a way that is in accord with one who has made the life of Jesus a pattern for his life—that is to say, it will no longer have a special place in our heart.  For such a life is diametrically opposed to the one lived for the sake of Mammon, wherein one is fraudulent, treads upon the poor and even goes to war for the sake of it.  Deep in our heart, we know that these two concerns of our lives—for God and for Mammon—are so opposed to each other that we cannot give ourselves to God and money at the same time.  The reason for this is that “no man can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other or be attentive to the one and despise the other” (Luke 16:13a).  This being the case, the right attitude toward wealth is therefore to make good use of it so as to reap eternal reward or, as Luke would have it, to have a “lasting reception” (Luke 16:9).

The problem today, however, is that, if the world economy, wars and the poverty of the Third World are any index, those who make a god out of money—and the power that goes with it—seem to be more enterprising than us Christians who ought to make Jesus’ life a pattern for others.  Yet we can learn from them.  In today’s Gospel (Luke 16:1-7), Jesus told us the parable of the cunning manager who, to solve the crisis he brought upon himself, reduced the amount his clients owed to his master to the effect that these accepted him after losing his managerial position.  In recalling this parable, Luke wanted to bring home this point—if Christians would be more enterprising in proclaiming and living the message about a life patterned after Jesus’ than the sons of darkness in furthering their self-interest, we can certainly change the world, make it a better place to live in, and thereby realize some pockets of the Kingdom of God here on earth.  And peace, which assures tranquility of life, will be within our reach.

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