22 Sep 2013
“‘For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.’” (Luke 16:8b) In the name …
This year the NFL doubled the price of premium seating at the Super Bowl to $2,600 a piece. The average price, according to CNN, for a ticket to see some group called One Direction is $675; that’s the average price. There seems to an awful lot of disposable income out there. Then you hear that the gulf between the richest 1% and the rest of us 99% is the widest it has been since the 1920’s. One sign of that disparity is that ten years ago student loan debt was an amazing $204 billion. In 2013 that amazingly large number has increased six-fold to $1.2 trillion. Kids and families are trying to get ahead, but often they’re finding out that they’re even further behind. Amanda Ripley wrote a book called “The Smartest Kids in the World.” In Finland, she notes, “Spending on education is tied to need.” Here in America, she continues, it’s the opposite. Rich communities can spend lavishly on the public education of their children while poor communities are left with few options, which denies them much of a chance to be more than poor.
Can this kind of discrepancy continue? I think it can. Someone told me the story of a conversation he had with an immigrant who was working as a cobbler. He had seen a lot of misery in his life and that’s why he came to America. This cobbler told his American friend that there will never be riots in the street in this country over economics because of the $1-menu at fast food restaurants. When most of our poor can get a hamburger for a dollar and not face the reality of starvation like in so many other countries, they will not riot. So I guess I should change my question from “Can this kind of discrepancy continue?” to “Should this kind of discrepancy continue?” And I want to stress again, this isn’t about politics. There are conservative and liberal ways, I’m assuming, to deal with this question. So it’s not about how we should deal with this discrepancy. The question is “Should we?”
I so wanted to make this morning’s sermon light hearted. You know, we’re surrounded by the horrible, and sometimes you get the feeling that it’s time for a break. Poison gas attacks across the world on a tyrant’s own people and mass murders so commonplace in our country that foreign nations make fun of us. Church doesn’t always have to be about moral responsibility and the sinfulness of the world. Sometimes church needs to give us a break. Church needs to be an oasis from all the nonsense in the world. A place to smile and enjoy each other’s company, and all in the presence of the loving God whom we spoke about last Sunday in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
I wanted to tell the story of a woman who had a serious disease and she was taken to the hospital. That night she prayed and asked God if she was going to die. And God said, "Don't worry. You have 43 years, 5 months, and 7 days to live." Greatly encouraged, she recovered quickly. And she figure that since she had so long to live, she would really live it up. So before she left the hospital, she had a face lift, a breast augmentation, and a tummy tuck. And just for good measure, she cut her hair and changed its color. She was beautiful, but the day she left the hospital, she was hit by an ambulance and killed. Standing before God, she asked, "Why did this happen when you told me I had over 43 years to live?" And God said, "Oops, sorry! I didn't recognize you any more." I wanted to tell that story, but I couldn’t because today’s Gospel just doesn’t lend itself to telling jokes.
Although … if Jesus ever did tell a joke, and if it ever did make its way onto the pages of Holy Scripture, I think today’s passage about the dishonest steward would be it. The moral of the whole thing is extremely serious, but I have to believe that Jesus is telling this story tongue in cheek. He may have been deadpan in the delivery, but I think even His audience had to recognize that there was a bit of stand-up in this story about a crook who is caught red-handed, who admits to being weak and lazy, who then steals some more to get in the good graces of his customers, who in turn become guilty themselves as accessories to crime of fraud, the whole useless bunch of them taking care of this dishonest steward for the rest of his life, and then finally the rich man of the story commending this guy for acting so wisely. The biblical commentaries sometimes go crazy trying to make this whole scheme pass their moral tests. But I think Jesus is having a little bit of fun here before He drops the mightily important moral of the story.
No one in this parable is commendable. Even the rich man is sort of dopey. But maybe all of this makes the final, and only, message of the parable stand out more clearly. Maybe the message is so important that Jesus tells His one and only Gospel joke to get it across better. What we have obtained in this world, maybe not even given by God, maybe even understood as earned by our own hard work, is a test. Jesus says after the parable that He knows people act prudently when it comes to, in His words, “dealing with their own generation.” What Jesus does not see as clearly is “the children of light” working just as creatively. Mammon is an ordinary Aramaic word, a word of Jesus’ day, for riches. This is a word and message that reaches right back to the mouth of Jesus. Mammon in English ever since this Gospel passage, however, means riches that are worshiped. Jesus sees mammon as a test. Do we use what we have creatively for a greater good or do we worship what we have as a good unto itself? Should we tolerate a system where 1% of us has 20% of the wealth and where 10% have 50% of the wealth, and where 43 million Americans go hungry? Or should we seek a more creative use of what we have so riches are not worshiped but utilized? So much good depends on contributed wealth, but so much good work remains only a dream because wealth is mammon. Let us pray that we understand the difference between the two, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo