Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

There is an assumption in the Gospel of Saint Luke that appears in today’s reading: wealth is basically dishonest. There is something essentially corrupt about being wealthy, whether one has become wealthy by inheritance, hard work or good luck. Although one’s intentions may be good it’s very hard and perhaps impossible to avoid its corruption. Money is sometimes described as fluid; the hand dipped in money comes out wet.

Not many saints were born to wealth; fewer died with it. Saint Francis and his disciples, many of them born to comfortable middle class, simply walked away from it. Bernard of Quintavalle, a fellow Assisian of Saint Francis, threw his fabulous home open to everyone in town. Within two hours it was stripped by the mob that converged on it. With nothing more than the shirt on his back, Bernard followed Francis into destitution. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was a queen; widowed at a young age, she gave everything away and died in poverty. To this day, many religious men and women have left their wealthy families to share the life of the poor.

The fact is, not many people in the history of the world have been wealthy; the rich are a small minority; most people always struggle to make ends meet. Unfortunately we have never figured out a system for distributing goods according to need; in fact we’ve never taken much interest in the project. The Communists, perhaps, made a stab at it but failed so miserably it’s hardly worth mentioning.

The Bible tells a few stories of redistribution according to need. There is the legend of the Hebrews in the desert who collected manna off the ground and shared it equally among them. Conveniently, anything stored overnight rotted, except on Friday night. That daily wonder made it easier to keep the rule.

Saint Luke, in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, said the earliest Christians shared everything in common.

All who believed were together and had all things in common. They would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.

That halcyon moment did not last very long. Cheating appears in the fifth chapter and ethnic discrimination in the sixth. Throughout the history of the church religious communities and utopian societies have struggled to imitate the experience of that early church; the key word is struggled.

In today’s gospel Jesus advises his disciples not to disavow ownership but to “make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth.” That flies in the face of the urge to amass and hoard. Most people assume that private wealth provides for one’s security in an undependable society with an unreliable economy. You might as well set sail for Europe in a leaky bathtub. He suggest you invest your money wisely in the welfare of others. A community of shared poverty is far more secure than an atomised society of 1% rich and 99% poor. 

His statement also acknowledges the inevitability of wealth in a corrupt world. Denying that we have any advantage over others is absolutely the worst approach. We must realize the danger to our immortal souls and ponder deeply the real purpose of our material advantage over others.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

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