Father David's Reflection for Sunday of Week Twenty-Five (Ordinary Time)
We Are Called To Responsibility
Does God seem to be reigning on earth today? Where do you see signs that he is and that he isn’t? How do you understand your own role in establishing his reign? Are you inspired by this call? When, where and how can you contribute to establishing the reign of God on earth?
The Entrance Antiphon celebrates God as the “Savior of all people…. Whatever their troubles, I will answer their cry.” No matter how oppressed people may be, or how much evil seems to dominate, God says, “I will always be their Lord.” This Mass affirms the reign of God on earth and calls us to work to establish it throughout the world. We were consecrated and committed to this by Baptism, when we were solemnly anointed to share in the mission of Christ “Priest, Prophet and King.” We take responsibility, as faithful stewards of his kingship, for establishing the reign of his truth and love over every area and activity of human life on earth. It is our job.
And so, in the Opening Prayer(s) we ask God to “guide us” in the work of establishing his reign on earth, and to guide us “as you guide creation, according to your law of love.” We proclaim that “the perfection of justice” is found, not in domination and power, but ‘in your love.” As we look to our task of establishing peace and justice throughout the world as stewards of Christ’s kingship, our prayer is, “May we love one another” and “find this love in each other that justice may be attained through obedience to your law.”
What is that law? It is the “new commandment” of Jesus: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”1
Christ’s love is universal, extended to all without exception, but exceptional in this, that Jesus showed a special compassion for the poor. The Responsorial Psalm focuses us on this as the theme of the Old Testament and Gospel readings: “Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor” (Psalm 113). As stewards of his kingship, then, we must join the bishops of Latin America in their history-making “preferential option for the poor.” 2 This is not really an option for Christians; Baptism commits us to it.
1 John 15:12.
2 See The Church in the Present-Day… (Second General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Medellin, Colombia, 1968).
A major element in human living is awareness. It is the attitudes, values and goals we are most aware of that find most constant expression in our actions. And conversely, it is through what we see ourselves expressing in choices that we become aware of what our real beliefs and priorities are.
In Amos 8: 4-7 God is inviting us to examine our awareness. What are we focused on most of the time? What are our abiding preoccupations?
The first reading is a wake-up call to those whose driving concern is to make money. How much am I caught up in questions about increasing profits and lowering costs? Does cost-reduction include lowering wages? “Outsourcing” to foreign workers who will settle for less? In decisions to relocate plants, do I, or does my company, give serious concern to the human cost of relocating people? To those who will lose their jobs, or who will have to give up their homes and social connections to relocate to another part of the country?
Do I keep trying to extend working hours for myself and others? How real is the “sabbath rest” in my life, my business? What priority do I give to leisure? To being with my family? To just being “with God” in prayer, reading and reflection, in church missions and retreats? Does work rule my life?
Reread Amos against the background of such national issues as outsourcing, environmental issues, price supports for local products over the exports that are other countries’ only source of income,3 the subversion of governments who are not subservient to our economic interests, wars fought for the financial benefit of a few under the pretense of winning “freedom” for many,4 government spending that gives priority to arms (and the arms industry) over education and medical care, manipulated media “spin” and taxation policies that favor the rich over the poor.
With a few changes in terminology, today’s reading from Amos would sound like the daily news.
Many companies have enlightened business practices (enlightened by God, I think we can say), which make them weigh seriously prospective economic benefits against the human cost to their employees or to the environment, conscientiously trying to minimize the “collateral damage” from their decisions. The response of Christians to this is an affirmation of faith and hope: “Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.”
The Shrewd Steward
In Luke 16: 1-13 Jesus talks about stewardship: “There was a rich man and he had a steward” to whom he said, “Draw me up an account of your stewardship, because you are not to be my steward any longer.” 5 This is another way to speak about our baptismal anointing to share in the mission of Christ Prophet, Priest and King. We are consecrated by Baptism to be stewards of the kingship of Christ. This means we have been given the responsibility of looking out for Christ’s interests on earth, for managing in his name all that has been entrusted to us, and specifically for working to establish the kingdom of God — Christ’s reign over every area and activity of human life on earth.
The steward in the story was dishonest; Jesus does not praise him for that. But he does praise him for being a realist. The man knew how to look ahead and use what he had control of today in a way that would bring him benefits in the future. The “children of light,” Jesus said, are not always smart enough to do this.
What do we have control of? Everything we have freedom of choice about: our possessions, our time, the use we make of our energies and talent, the way we will affect our environment, the amount of conformity we will give to our culture, what we will learn, accept and use from the Church, the way we will deal with different categories of people, the levels on which we will interact with Jesus and God. All of these are things we have control of now. The question is, are we realistic enough to look ahead and use them in a way that will bring us benefits in the future? Or forever?
We are in control of all this — but as managers, not owners. When we accepted to “die with Christ” at Baptism, we gave up everything we had on earth, including all our plans, desires and dreams, just as if we were accepting physical death. We accepted to die in Christ and to come back to life — to a new life — as a “new creation,” to live as his risen body on earth. So all that we have and are belongs to Christ — as his body belongs to him — and we are simply the stewards of our lives and of all we can do with them on earth. His stewards. Stewards of his kingship. 6
Prayer and action
In 1Timothy 2: 1-8 Paul urges Christians to pray for “kings and those in authority.” This is why we pray for the bishops and for the head of the college of bishops, the pope, at every Mass. And we normally pray for the president in the Intercessory Prayers.
But prayer is not enough. Unlike the people of Paul’s time, we have a voice in determining the course of government, and we need to raise it — through the vote, through letters, conversations and every form of social action. We have enough control to be failing in stewardship if we do not exercise it. So if anything makes you feel at times that God is not in control, this should arouse you to ask whether you and those you know and influence are giving him control by managing things as his faithful stewards on earth.
This can be discouraging, of course — to the point of appearing hopeless. That is why we began Mass with the Entrance Antiphon: “I am the Savior of all people,” says the Lord. “Whatever their troubles, I will answer their cry.” Despite appearances, we keep affirming, “Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.”
3 For example, coffee, tea and cotton. Look into buying “fair trade” products: e.g. www.GreenMountainCoffee.com 800 223 6768 or www.equalexchange.com/interfaith 774 776 7366.
4 The record shows that where we have given military aid to support “democratic governments” — for example, in Latin America — what we more often supported were oppressive dictatorships.
5 This is the Jerusalem Bible translation of Luke 16:1-3.
6 See 2Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15, Romans 6:3-4..
How aware am I, on a day-to-day basis, of my mission to establish the reign of God around me? What has struck me most in this reflection?
Pick one thing you can do to try to change one thing.