25th Sunday Year C
Theme of the week: Obsession with money is a sin. Let us develop a sense of detachment to our wealth.
For most of us who have jobs, own our cars, and live in our own home, we are blessed with great monetary wealth. Yet most of us are not satisfied. We are always hoping for a bigger house, a better car, the next promotion, etc. While these quests are not wrong in themselves, they can often become an obsession, taking us away from our family, our civic duties and our spiritual well being. This is when our relentless quest for money becomes a sin.
Amos was a prophet who lived around 750 BC, at a time where wealth is concentrated in the hands of a privileged few. It was typical of these wealthy people to exploit the poor, tempering with weighing scales and selling them poor-quality “sweepings of the wheat” (verse 6). Not only that, in clear violation of the Third Commandment (to keep holy the Sabbath day), they despised the holy days and Sabbath (verse 5), as they could not trade on those days. While being rich is not a sin per se, like many of us today, their relentless zest to pursue wealth led these people to sin. When we allow money to become an end in itself, when our desire for money supersedes our desire for God, then money becomes our god. In doing so, we violate another Commandment – the First Commandment, to worship no other gods other than the one True God.
Staying on the theme of wealth, in the Gospel, Jesus related to his disciples the parable of the Astute Manager. Without a contextual understanding of financial transactions in Jesus’ time, this parable would sound odd. In the parable, we were told that before the master can dismiss him, the dishonest manager altered the books to lessen the debt of his master’s debtors. In so doing, he not only earned the favour of those debtors but surprisingly, also earn the praise of his master! To understand this parable, we first need to understand that in Jewish custom, it is not legal to charge interest. Hence it is common practice for the creditor to inflate the amount owed in the deed so as to charge a de facto interest. The Astute Manager’s altering of the deed effectively cancelled out his master’s illegal profit. In this way, the master was compelled into doing the right thing by Jewish custom. By his action, the Astute Manager has forced the master into not pursuing ill-gotten wealth, thereby helping the master develop a sense of detachment to money – and that is why the master praised the manager. Jesus concluded, “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (verse 9). Allegorically, for many of us obsessed with making money, it will be our detachment to wealth that will grant us a place in our eternal home in heaven.
Think of the last time you plan a major purchase, say, a house or a car. You probably would have been very astute with the way you spend your money – working through your budget and repayment schedule; evaluating whether you were getting value for your money; etc. Think about it, have you applied the same shrewdness in planning for the Kingdom of Heaven? All earthly rewards (such as wealth) are transient in nature; and pale in comparison to our heavenly reward. If we have been astute in planning for the Kingdom of Heaven, we would have been prepared to forego all our earthly possession in preference for God’s heavenly favour. As Jesus said near the end of the passage: “No slave can serve two masters; … You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Verse 13) We recall the story of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:2-10) as a great example of this teaching – after encountering Jesus, Zacchauus was transformed. He pledged half his wealth to the poor and promised to repay anyone he defrauded four times the amount. In today’s materialistic world, the Gospel challenges us to do the same.
The Second Readings helps us end this week’s reflection on a more positive note. The passage emphasises the importance of intercession prayers for those in high places – “kings and all who are in high positions” (verse 2) Whether it is the rich or the powerful, Christ “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (verse 4). And for the sake of that, Christ has paid “a ransom for all” (verse 6). Yes, he loves us so much as he has already paid the ransom. All that is left for you and me to do is to follow his teachings and renounce our sins. Amen.