23 Sep 2007
“‘I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’” (Luke 16:9) In the name …
Rev. Randolph Calvo
On the fourth Sunday of September, the church asks that we bring to our congregations’ attention the fraternal organization that is associated with us. The name sounds strange, but its purpose is the same as all other fraternals. Spojnia means bond or union in the Polish language, which was the language of her first members back when it was organized in 1908, 99 years ago. Just like all other fraternals, it doesn’t work on a profit motive. It is there to bring people together, to form a union among them. As a fraternal it is there to serve a need of the community, and anything that it earns in the process is then reinvested in that community. In nearly a century, it has paid out just over $49 million in benefits to her members, and in the process it has donated nearly seven-and-a-half million dollars back to our church in the forms of donations to the Clergy Pension Fund, the Youth Fund and others. It supports education scholarships for her members, and it has established a youth retreat facility and a home for the aged, which are both located in the Scranton area, but are open to all of our members anywhere in the country.
As I said, a fraternal is organized to meet a certain need of the community. 99 years ago the members of our church denomination faced an awful lot of prejudice. We were the wrong church to choose, and all kinds of forces were brought to bear against our earliest members, including financial hardship. Our earliest members were discovering that their applications for home loans were being rejected for nonexistent reasons. Rather than cry or complain, they did something about it. They built their own financial institution. These were people who didn’t have a lot of education or cash, but they had a lot of gusto. What money they did have they pooled together, and then they worked together for the common good. What little they had they shared with each other so that all could benefit.
And the attention we give this Sunday to our fraternal fits in well as an example to help explain the moral teaching of both today’s Lesson and Gospel. Money, finances, business can all be morally messy in practice and even by definition so we are to use what we have to lessen the stain. It can’t always be about more and better for ourselves, sometimes it has to be about others. Before Amos was called to be a prophet, he was a shepherd. He worked hard, and he worked honestly, and maybe because of just those traits God spoke to him and sent him forth from his fields and flocks to tell the nation of God’s displeasure. Amos is a powerful voice against greed and corruption. He prophecies God’s anger against his countrymen who cheat in their business dealings and who treat the unfortunate with contempt, who use their wealth not to help but to harm. God says to them through Amos: I will not forget.
This reading from the Old Testament is followed by Jesus’ rather difficult parable of the dishonest steward. It’s hard to understand, but the moral of the story seems to be that we know how to take care of ourselves when it comes to what is worldly, so why don’t we seem to be as thorough when it comes to what is spiritual. And Jesus drives the point home with the remark that if we are not found trustworthy with the wealth of the here and now, then why should we think that God will entrust us with His spiritual riches. In other words, if we cannot use honestly and compassionately what we have here, then we shouldn’t fool ourselves about God trusting us with “true wealth” there.
The parable’s use of the pejorative term “dishonest wealth” can throw us off. It’s not dishonesty simply as in criminal. Instead, in the eyes of Jesus it’s all the wealth that goes beyond “if you have two coats give one to your neighbour who has none.” Dishonest wealth is everything beyond the necessities when our neighbour has nothing. This is undeniably harsh, but with this in mind Jesus then says, “‘Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’” (Lk 16:9) In other words, we are to be charitable when we are able, then when these possessions fail us, when we pass from this world to the next where they are no longer of any use, our generosity will be counted as morality, our unselfishness as trustworthy in the eyes of God. We will have lived practical lives that did not forget either God or neighbour.
Jesus was stridently against the accumulation of possessions of any kind, even what we would call the most basic of possessions. When the Pharisees asked Him once about the Roman coin used to pay taxes, Jesus had to ask one of the Pharisees for the coin before He could say, “Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” He didn’t even have a coin in His pocket. It was His complete concentration on the kingdom of God that caused Him to call all earthly possessions “dishonest wealth.” It wasn’t so much the means of acquiring the wealth the earned the adjective dishonest. Rather it was the whole system of which money was but one part that He called dishonest. Jesus considered the whole system below the “true wealth” of the spiritual.
Now it would be wonderful if we could all be as selfless as Jesus, but this is idealistic, not really practical, there are no utopias out there, and even Jesus realized that “dishonest wealth” can have its moral benefits. We’ve all been blessed with a good life here in our communities. The poorest citizen here is so much better off than the large majority of people who live elsewhere that they probably cannot even imagine how good we have it. And just as God said through His prophet Amos long ago, He still says to us today: I will not forget. God will remember how we use what we have. It’s not so much a question of wealth, but how we use that wealth that God will not forget. We don’t have to walk around with only one coat, but likewise we can’t ignore the needs of the person who has no coat.
There is poverty and hardship, and often times very near to us. As we came together in 1908 to help ourselves financially as we formed our fraternal, so today we can come together through church and through charities to help all of us and others. This is the use of our resources that Christ remembers, that Jesus counts as trust-worthy. So how will He remember us and what we have done with our possessions? May the words of Amos and of Jesus inspire us to be charitable people, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)