September 22, 2013: The Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Passion for Living
Jesus is making the point that his hearers are in the same position as this steward who saw his imminent dismissal threatening him with ruin. Yet, the crisis which threatens Jesus' hearers (including us today) is even more serious. As Christians, we believe there are two worlds: the unseen world as well as the one that is visible––the world which is eternal as well as the one that is passing away. Some people live as though this world is all there is and ever will be. That means all their values, all their energies and all their hopes are focused on the here and now. Living that way is the essence of unbelief. To live that way is to leave God and his kingdom out of the picture. It is an attitude which thinks that being “happy” right now is the most important thing––and “security” is the top priority in having happiness.
The man in this story acted "prudently" (v.8). [The Greek word is phronimos, sometimes translated “wisely” (KVJ) or “shrewdly” (NIV, emphasizing the devious side of being “wise”).] He had foresight and recognized the critical nature of his situation. Jesus is not commending his character or what he did; Jesus respects the intensity of the man’s perception and motivation. So he says: For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
In other words, people who live for the here and now know how to go after what they want. Worldly people know how to be worldly. They are shrewd. They know how to get their way. They know how to take care of Number One. A shrewd businessman knows how to manipulate situations to his own advantage. A playboy knows how to seduce. A “shark” knows how to cheat people; their kind goes after their goal with abandon. People consumed with this world know what they want and they know what they have to do to get it. That is how they can be a model to us for how to live with passion for the kingdom of God. The dedication it takes to achieve advancement and pleasure in the here-and-now is the kind of dedication Jesus calls his disciples to have.
We live in a world where most people get things backwards. Beginning with the first disobedience in the Garden, people have always tried to rationalize away God's laws. The Pharisees did it (see v14). Many “religious” people do it today. God calls for his people to look at life in an upside-down kind of way.
One way to think about our priorities and motivations is through our children (I “borrowed” this example from Msgr Charles Pope; he has a wonderful homiletical blog from the Archdiocese of Washington). Almost all the focus with our children is on worldly success. Little Johnny might know little or nothing about God, Scripture, or Sacraments, but let Johnny bring home a bad report card, and the reaction is quick. Here is a problem to get to the bottom of, because if Johnny doesn’t get better grades, he might not get into the best college, and then he won’t be able to make a killing––I mean.... a living.
Or, more likely, the kids are taught that sports is the most important thing. Weekly church attendance is not so easy, but daily practice is certainly accommodated. Parents can feel that an hour sitting in church is next to eternity, but most of a Saturday or Sunday (or both) watching games and going to meets is no big deal. Meanwhile Johnny and Susie, who can kick a soccer ball or shoot baskets for hours, barely know the Our Father, have no clue at Mass, and all they know about Adam and Eve is that they were “in the Bible or something.” But those things haven’t been important to Mom or Dad, so maybe they’re not important at all.
One day the father proudly says to his pastor, “Great news! John has gotten a full scholarship to Princeton.” The pastor says “Great!” What he should say to the father is “That’s fine, but how will he get his spiritual nurture there? You know what it will be (like most college campuses)––a moral cesspool of fornication and drinking. If we’re not serious about John’s spiritual life, he may go in there, come out with a great career, and yet be heading straight for Hell. What’s the plan for his spiritual welfare and growth?”
And it’s not just families with kids and young adults. “Mature adults” can spend a lot of hours worrying and strategizing to make sure their retirement income enables them to “live life at the standard they have come to expect” (that line was in a commercial). Retirees can passionately give themselves to the pleasures “we worked for so long to enjoy,” and that’s supposedly the crowning glory of life.
It is so easy for all of us––parents, pastors, families and parishes––not to be responsible in what matters most to God. Our children hear that they should study hard, get good grades etc., to make it in this world. Of itself, this is not wrong––but their souls are more important. We allow our heroes and models to be sports superstars and entertainers who make it big in this world. What is our focus? Where are our plans and dreams directed?
We all have a God-given capacity to go after what we want.... with abandonment. People around us do it all the time. “Go-getters" usually have the admiration of a lot of people. One exception to that is people who are super-motivated about Jesus.... they are usually looked upon as "fanatics." Think of the most compulsive thing in your life. What holds your nose to the grindstone when almost nothing else will?
Jesus is calling us here to be disciples who are willing to live for his kingdom with the same intensity with which worldly people pursue their own self interests. An unbelieving world cannot easily hear the Church’s moral teachings if Christians are not modeling distinctiveness in their values and commitments. May our Lord have mercy on us all. May he give us, who claim the name of Jesus, the desire and the strength to serve him with passion.