Those seeking self-aggrandizement, like those peddling dangerous opioids, will not put one over on God. CNS photo/George Frey, Reuters

God's Word on Sunday: Divided hearts not welcome in eternal home

  • September 18, 2022

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Sept. 18 (Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13)

There is nothing new about corruption and collective sin. Amos decries the corruption of his day: folks for whom money and self-aggrandizement are more important than service to God.

The litany of outrages should sound familiar, for they resound in our own time. Crushing the poor, weak and needy tops the list. This is followed by contempt for sacred feasts because they cut in on profiteering time. The described characters can hardly wait for the new moon and the Sabbath to be over so they can get back to what counts: money. Finally, to top it all off, they engage in crooked and dishonest business practices. Tampering with the scales and charging more are combined with selling tainted products — floor sweepings in place of wheat. God will have none of it and is not bought off or fooled by superficial piety. They will pay; there has been no repentance or remorse on their part.

Looking at our own day, there are similar examples: opioids that are pushed on an unsuspecting public, despite knowledge of their danger. High-level Ponzi schemes and inflated mortgages. Dumping toxic chemicals into waterways. Tainted or defective products sold knowingly. Evictions of the poor from their housing. The list goes on and on, but the underlying cause is the same: some have a greater love for profit, wealth and power than for God and other people.

That is a fine example of “living according to the flesh.” It can lead us to a feeling of futility, but, as Paul wrote to the Galatians “God is not mocked.”

The older meaning of the English word “mock” is to trick or hoodwink with something fake. Paul was reminding his listeners that we cannot put one over on God with lip-service or hollow piety. All who profess the name of Christ must do their utmost to manifest that faith in their everyday lives.

Paul, or a follower writing in his name, calls for prayers for those in power — kings and all those in high positions. But the reason for this can leave one a bit uneasy. The goal is to lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. There is certainly nothing wrong with godliness and dignity, but this sounds a bit like quietism and isolation. A quiet life is not necessarily the most desirable or godly — it can be self-absorbed. He continues by stating that God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. He rightfully focuses on humanity as a whole and refuses to demonize those in power or those who are not of the faith. We should certainly pray for those in positions of power and authority, but praying that they exercise their authority with justice, wisdom and compassion.

The story of the crooked and slimy manager in Luke’s Gospel can leave us a bit uneasy and scratching our heads. Why is he praised in this story? Should we be dishonest too? When the manager discovered that he was about to be fired for incompetence and embezzlement, he devised a plan: he cooked the books. He downsized all of the amounts owed to his master by creditors, much to their delight. After his dismissal, they would remember his kindness and generosity and treat him well. The owner was amazed, and he admired the manager’s shrewdness and enterprise. Jesus observed that the children of light can be a bit naïve and passive, letting events overtake them. The people of this world, on the other hand, are shrewd and vigilant, always one step ahead of events. Life is a chess game for them, and they are always making moves that will benefit them.

The point of the story is that we should use our money wisely, especially in ways that benefit others who are in need. Generosity should be our default setting. Those whom we help will remember our generosity and welcome us into their eternal homes. The story ends with the well-known but seldom observed warning about trying to serve two masters. We cannot have a divided heart. We cannot serve both God and wealth or God and anything else. Our first love should always be the God who made us and to whom we will return.