for the 25th Sunday
of Ordinary Time
Sept. 19, 2010
Amos 8: 4-7
Luke 16: 1-13
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
“The Lord has sworn…: ‘Never will I forget a thing they have done!’” (Amos 8: 7).
Last nite, after having composed the homily, I came upon a blog post* that seems to me very apropos, and so I’m inserting it here:
What do you put before God?
Ask yourself that question after reading this item about Ramadan and Muslim NFL star Husain Abdullah…:
NFL practices this time of year are designed for maximum sweat production. Coaches are trying to build up stamina and endurance. Players push themselves to the limit, in pursuit of jobs and starting spots. It's also really, really hot.
And starting on Aug. 11, the beginning of the Islamic month of Ramadan, Minnesota Vikings safety Husain Abdullah will be going through these practices without the benefit of water. Or food. Or any other kind of hydration.
During Ramadan, observing Muslims like Abdullah will fast for 30 days; eating or drinking nothing while the sun is out. Food and drink are permitted after dark and before sunrise, but during the day, there's nada -- not a tiny little sip of water, or the smallest release of Powerade's mystic mountain blueberry.
From the AP:
Even while sprinting in the heat and humidity during drills, sometimes in full pads, Abdullah is adamant about his faith. He will not allow himself so much as a cup of water until the sun sets and before it rises.
"I'm putting nothing before God, nothing before my religion," Abdullah said. "This is something I choose to do, not something I have to do. So I'm always going to fast."
How many of us live our faith that fiercely? How often do we stumble during Lent, when giving up a candy bar during the week or a Big Mac on Friday qualifies in our feeble minds as Heroic Sacrifice? How many of us throw a pillow at the alarm clock and roll over on Sunday morning instead of going to mass?
"I put nothing before God, nothing before my religion..."
Wouldn't you like to be able to say that, and mean it?
Last week, you may remember, the Lord got really angry at the Israelites because they had created an idol—the golden calf—and worshipped it, crediting it with leading them out of Egypt and setting them free.
This week, it’s several hundred years later, and God’s angry with them again. But the reason’s slightly different. This time they’re worshipping money, which causes them to hold the sabbath and other sacred days in low regard—“When will the new moon be over, that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?” (Amos 8:5); and to hold the poor in low regard, cheating them in the market and forcing them to sell themselves into slavery just to have food and clothing—“We buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals” (8:6).
Last week God was angry with Israel because they’d broken their covenant with him, that he would be their God and they’d be faithful to him. This week they’ve broken covenant with him in 2 ways: the infidelity of not caring about the sabbath, and the infidelity of oppressing others who are part of the covenant, their fellow Israelites.
The prophet Amos repeatedly tells Israel that they’ll meet disaster if they don’t return to the Lord—not only in what’s openly religious, like worshipping only the Lord and observing the sabbath, but also in their care for the neediest and most helpless members of their society. Our obligations to God exceed what goes on within the church walls. Our relationship with him includes our relationship with everyone else—not only our fellow Christians, not only our fellow Americans, but everyone, because God’s love extends to everyone, as St. Paul says in our 2d reading: “God wills that everyone be saved and come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).
We could say something about what the rich and the powerful have done to our country—the economic disaster of our public policies. More to the point for us, tho, is God’s call to us to put our relationship with him and with his people in the first place: “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). Mammon means any created good or activity that might come between us and God: money, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, power—anything that we might get addicted to, anything that might supplant God in our lives. “I put nothing before God, nothing before my religion.”
Are there people in our lives whom we disregard, look down on, cheat, trample upon and destroy (cf. Amos 8:4)?—the sorts of behavior denounced by Amos, the sorts of behavior that destroy society when repeated over and over by tens of thousands of individuals like you and me. Have we sold out spouses or families in order to pursue some selfish interest of our own? How do we treat our co-workers, or employees if we have a business?
All of us, of course, sin, and all of us sin against our brothers and sisters in some fashion. Paul reminds us, as always, of the Good News of Jesus Christ: “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all,” because God wants “everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth”—the truth of his love and pardon offered us thru Jesus, the truth that Jesus can transform us into images of himself if we allow him, if we make a firm decision to do something about where we are and where we want to wind up (like the steward getting fired in Jesus’ parable today—Luke 16:1-8).
Where do we want to wind up? Jesus mentions “eternal dwellings” (16:9). That’s our ultimate goal, of course—those heavenly mansions beyond the pearly gates. (Yes, heaven’s a gated community, and you can’t get in unless you know Someone inside!) Even here below we want happy relationships in our families, in our workplaces, where we shop and look for entertainment. We want a society where people—including the poor, the immigrant, the elderly, the disabled—are treated with respect and dignity, not cheated, not bought and sold like commodities, not used and discarded like merchandise. Then we have to decide how we’ll act with our families, co-workers, store clerks, other drivers on the roads; decide what kind of public leaders we want to elect.
“The master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently” (Luke 16:8) in regard to where he stood and where he wanted to wind up. Each of us has to act similarly.
* Greg Kandra, The Deacon’s Bench, Sept. 18, 2010, crediting blogger Scott Dodge.