19 Sep 2010
“‘The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.’” (Luke 16:8) In the name …
The International Committee of the Red Cross was started by a Swiss businessman who happened upon the aftermath of an unexceptional battle in an unremarkable war in 1859. Tens of thousands of soldiers were left dead or wounded on the battlefield with no medical attention. The wounded groaned in agony next to the dead. The scene was so appalling that Henry Dunant who was that Swiss businessman formed the Red Cross. Florence Nightingale is world renowned for starting professional nursing and for caring for the wounded in so many of Europe’s brutal wars. She said that she was called by God to this profession. Her efforts helped to raise the survival rate of soldiers wounded in battle. But it was this same Florence Nightingale who eventually, after seeing so much death, pain and destruction, professed that people should let wars be as terrible as possible so that other people would stop having them. The cost of war, in other words, should be left in the hands of the people who want to make war. Florence Nightingale believed that if you make war easier for the warmongers, then you end up prolonging the wars and making them even more severe and destructive.
We’re starting with some new acolytes up here at the altar. And one of the first jobs that they get to do is hold the paten for Holy Communion. And when the newbies ask what the paten is I always get to say, “It’s my favourite movie.” I’m always surprised by how many of these kids don’t get the joke because they’ve never seen the movie Patton. I thought everyone had seen the movie at least once. In the movie General Bradley criticizes General Patton for recklessly moving across Sicily because Bradley thought it was all for the glory of capturing the headlines and attention. But as military historians have argued (The Soul of Battle, Victor Davis Hanson), Patton’s audacity grew out of his awareness of how awful a dragged-out, dug-in confrontation can be. Fewer soldiers die and are injured by quick and decisive action than by trying the more cautious route.
What Dunant, Nightingale and Patton all recognized from outside and within the conflagration of war is that it should be brought to as quick an end as possible. War, I even hate to say it, is inevitable. It has happened too often for too long for me to think otherwise. And out comes a book by Linda Polman called The Crisis Caravan. She is a journalist who has covered some of the most dangerous places in our world, and I just read a recent interview with her (Boston Globe, 9/12/2010, p. K1, 3). She writes about the 160 billion dollar relief industry. The title of the book comes from the caravans of aid trucked in by relief agencies in war-torn regions. And she argues that while the intentions of the donors are generous and noble, too often this relief backfires. It prolongs confrontations. It actually can support ruthless causes and allow them to continue their destructive campaigns. She even cites examples where despots and terrorists create humanitarian catastrophes so that they can steal the food and the monetary aid to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars every year, and that this relief props-up dysfunctional governments and allows them to continue harassing their own people and murdering their opponents.
Then during the week I read today’s Gospel in preparation for this morning’s sermon. And I have to admit that last week’s parable of the Good Samaritan is easy to embrace, but that this week’s parable of the dishonest steward is much harder to appreciate. The man is deceitful, that’s why he’s fired in the first place and that’s why he’s cheating his boss by changing the amounts other people owe him. He’s also lazy and conceited. He actually says, “‘I am not strong enough to dig and I am too ashamed to beg.’” (16:3) There is nothing about this man that is endearing or edifying, and yet the parable ends with the strange commendation of this dishonest, disloyal, lazy and conceited man because he acted prudently. Then Jesus adds outside of the story, “‘The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.’”
I don’t think Jesus is holding up the personal example of the dishonest steward for us to follow. It would contradict everything else Jesus said and did. I think the purpose of the parable is to highlight for us that there are many and powerful people in our world who could not care less about God or neighbour, and that they do so with extreme efficiency. They take advantage of every opportunity just like the dishonest steward. I think of the recent stories of the drug gangs at the Mexican border. They are killing thousands of innocent people so that Americans can continue to abuse drugs, and they’re doing so with great efficiency. Whatever tool they have, they use, no matter how brutal or savage.
Jesus must have seen the same type of depravity in His own day. He must have been astonished by the way some people can so ruthlessly treat others as if their lives didn’t matter in the least. Jesus wasn’t a bury-your-head-in-the-sand idealist. He wasn’t the first one crucified by the Romans. He saw how callous people can be to ensure their own privileges. And the evil that He saw convinced Him that Christians must use everything at their disposal to counteract this evil. Faith cannot, in other words, survive in this world and make a difference if believers are not as fiercely dedicated to God as the godless are to themselves. Imagine leaders creating humanitarian catastrophes just to get richer. Imagine warlords thriving on not only their violence, but also on robbing the relief sent to the victims of their wars. Our enemies are ruthlessly efficient, and Christians cannot meet these kinds of confrontations with a lackluster commitment to God. We will fail. So Jesus instead challenges us to be equally diligent in the efforts of our faith or the world will become an ever darker place. That we may listen to Jesus’ words and accept His challenge, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo