Browsing Homilies

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Am 8:4-7 | Ps 113 | 1 Tm 2:1-8 | Lk 16:1-13 (or) Lk 16:10-13

Paul’s letter to Timothy contains a beautiful truth that is expressed so clearly: God our Savior “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” I wonder if we really believe this. It’s one thing to believe that God wants to save me, or those who think and act and look like me, but do I believe that God wants to save everyone?

Over the centuries many Christian missionaries set out from Europe to faraway lands. Saint Noel was one of these. They came to North and South America, to Asia, to Africa, and were motivated by the desire to share the truth of the Gospel throughout the world. They brought with them their faith convictions, but also their cultural realities and expectations. Unfortunately, sometimes those missionary efforts were as much about exporting European identity and culture as they were about sharing the Good News.

Now, it is a different kind of injustice for us to impose on those living centuries ago, standards of living and understanding that you and I are privileged to enjoy today. We have to trust that in most cases, people operated out of the best sense of things at a given time. A century from now, people will undoubtedly look back on us and demand the question, “Oh, how could they!?”

This being said, those serving in the missions may have been convinced that until the native or aboriginal peoples took on the values and languages and customs of Europe, they couldn’t be converted to Christianity. While this scenario isn’t true in all cases, it is apparent from historical findings that, more often than we would like to think, missionaries likely believed God wanted to save everyone as long as everyone acted like them.

It is a cautionary tale. We are prompted to ask ourselves about who we welcome, who we want to join us in our walk of faith. We have to ponder how comfortable we are with God’s offer of salvation to those who are different from us—whether in cultural background, lifestyle, economic status, politics which offend us, or actions which we find offensive.

We want to be firmly planted in God’s life so that it is the centerpiece of our lives and our witness to others. And that means doing the real work of examining our values in light of God’s Word and in light of God’s values.

In a very real way, this is what the biblical prophets did in their day. We heard from one of them in today’s readings. Amos is blunt in communicating God’s judgment to his fellow Jews: “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.” The population of the ancient Middle East in the time of Amos wasn’t much different from ours today. There was a rich upper class and a poor class that was much larger and growing. Unfortunately, it was common for those with wealth and power to manipulate the markets by cheating farmers who brought in their crops, by raising prices for essential goods, and even by creating situations where the poor could never get out debt.

Amos identifies these practices among God’s own people who had conformed to their culture rather than God’s covenant. Amos, like all the prophets, believed that God indeed wanted salvation for his people, and so the prophets did the thankless work of acting as the conscience for God’s people. Amos’s words are meant not simply to condemn the powerful but to offer them the opportunity for reform and repentance. And in the process, the poor would no longer be trampled upon or left behind.

Just as Christian missionaries learned they could not peddle cultural conformity as a pathway to the Gospel, we too have lessons to learn about our allegiances. Jesus says it clearly in today’s gospel: “no servant can serve two masters. He will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.”

If you and I allow God’s priorities to become our own, if we do the work of humbling ourselves and offer self-examination in light of the truths revealed by God, we are more likely to desire what God desires, and to think as God thinks, and not as human beings do.


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