“The poor are privileged masters of our knowledge of God; their fragility and their simplicity expose our selfishness, our false certainties, our claims of self-sufficiency and guide us to the experience of the closeness and tenderness of God, to receive his love in our life, his mercy of Father who takes care of us, all of us, with discretion and patient trust.” (Pope Francis)
It is an intriguing parable that our Lord gives us this Sunday (Lk. 16:1-13). This dishonest steward is clearly not a child of the Kingdom in his actions but rather a “child of this world” as our Lord indicates. Our Lord is not holding him up as a role model but rather highlighting his shrewdness as a way of prodding us to reflect on our own salvation. Are we just as shrewd, are we just as determined about living our discipleship, living in hopes of the Kingdom of God as this steward is about securing a place to land after his fast approaching termination of employment? The steward knew what was coming so he devoted all of capabilities and all of his faculties to make sure he did not end up either digging ditches or begging!
Let’s be honest. How often do we just coast along when it comes to the matters of faith? It’s enough to go to Church once a week. It’s enough to say a prayer every now and then. It’s enough to give a little something to charity. It’s enough to be a nice person. “It’s enough…” – the professed creed of a minimal approach to faith! “I believe” gives way to “It’s enough…” – a common profession in our day. Christ will not settle for “It’s enough…” Christ wants belief because only in belief is life and the Kingdom found! Christ wants us to have “true wealth”! Not necessarily silver and gold and the good things that this world affords but the true wealth that endures – relationship with God himself and the joy and salvation which can only come from that!
How might we gain this “true wealth”? Where might we find it? The parable points the way. The steward went to the debtors and dealt generously with them. He had them cut the amount that they owed the master. Debtors are those “in debt”. They owe. They stand in need. Generosity toward “debtors” is generosity toward the poor and the needy. They are the ones who cannot pay and the ones who stand in need. Generosity toward debtors saves our lives and our future – individually and collectively.
But someone might say, “It was the master’s wealth to begin with! The steward never had a claim on it. How can we give generously of that which we do not ourselves own?” What one thing do we have that has not been given us by God? Did we give ourselves life? Did we give ourselves creation, air to breathe, water to drink? Did we give ourselves the intelligence to acquire knowledge and gain skill? Did we give ourselves the lives of our loved ones and our friends that we hold dear? Can we determine even the length of our own days? All is gift! We never had nor ever will have an honest claim on it! We are all debtors and God’s gratuitousness exceeds all of our limits! We can give of the master’s wealth because God is generous.
“The poor are privileged masters of our knowledge of God; their fragility and their simplicity expose our selfishness, our false certainties, our claims of self-sufficiency and guide us to the experience of the closeness and tenderness of God, to receive his love in our life, his mercy of Father who takes care of us, all of us, with discretion and patient trust.”
Being a Christian is not about being a hero. Christ was not a superhero nor were the original apostles and disciples nor any of the saints. God has no need for superheroes. Being a Christian means learning the honest truth that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive. What does this mean? It means that when we honestly encounter the poor we are “blessed” by coming face-to-face with the truth of who we are and who God is. We are blessed when the illusion of our selfishness, false certainties and self-sufficiency is held up to the light of reality.
“The poor are the privileged masters of our knowledge of God…”
|Woman Caught in Adultery by John Martin Borg|
“…be merciful, the souls of the faithful need your mercy.” These are the words given by newly elected Pope Francis to a group of confessors at St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome the day after he was elected Bishop of Rome.
These words, I believe, catch the heart of our Lord in today’s gospel passage regarding the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). We often refer to this passage as “the woman caught in adultery” but it could just as easily be titled, “woman being played by the powers-that-be”. The scribes and the Pharisees have no regard for this woman nor are they really concerned about the integrity of the Law at this point. The scribes and the Pharisees rush to Jesus full of energy and accusation with this woman in tow in order to catch our Lord in a trap. The woman is powerless and she is being played by the powers-that-be. This is often the situation of the poor in our world. The poor know this game well.
So does our Lord. Our Lord refuses the energy and the accusation of the narrative of the scribes and the Pharisees and he re-directs it in an almost aikido-like fashion. Our Lord bends down and he writes on the ground with his finger. He lets the energy and accusation of the mob pass over him. Once the energy and accusation of the crowd is spent and has no effect, our Lord responds with a new and surprising energy. It is an energy rooted in God himself. It is the energy of mercy.
Once again, our Lord is giving us an instruction in mercy. In last Sunday’s gospel (Lk. 15:1-3,11-32) our Lord answers the accusation of the scribes and Pharisees not by pointing to his own righteousness but by pointing to the mercy of the Father. This Sunday, our Lord answers the accusation of the powers-that-be by speaking truth and sharing mercy. Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. None of us are without sin. Christ alone is without sin but instead of accusation he offers mercy.
In this Sunday’s first reading (Isaiah 43:16-21) we are told that our Lord opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters. In and through the gospel, Jesus overcomes the strength of accusation and abuse of power that can often inflame and harden the human heart and he opens a new way – the way of mercy and reconciliation! Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.
On Tuesday, newly-elected Pope Francis will be installed as Bishop of Rome and successor to St. Peter. Much is being made of his humility and simplicity. Pope Francis knows the lesson of mercy because he is a friend of the poor. When we become friends with the poor we learn their story and we learn the lessons that only they can teach. Christ is with the poor in a unique way. Friendship with the poor is friendship with Christ. There is no true new evangelization without friendship with the poor.
In a special way this Sunday we pray for newly-elected Pope Francis, may he in his unique role as successor to St. Peter, help all the Church learn the lessons of mercy and walk together in the ever-newness of the Gospel!