Putting God first in economics and adding Faith to Reason

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

From time to time I am asked what is the meaning of the parable that Jesus taught in the Gospel today (Luke 16:1-8) It seems difficult for many people to understand what Jesus means. I can begin by saying that Jesus does not praise the dishonest steward. It is the steward’s master who praises the steward in the parable (16:8). People have what is presumably the false impression that the steward defrauds his master out of some of his goods when he asks the debtors to write a new note. However when the steward asks the debtors to write out a new note, we take it that the steward is canceling his own commission which would have been part of the note or I.O.U., while his master still received all that was his due. The dishonest steward thus takes the hit himself, losing his own commission on the trades, and not his master. The master may not have even known the amount of commission his steward demanded on goods. The parable concludes with the master praising the steward for acting prudently in a crisis.

Then Jesus uses the parable to teach and says, “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” (Luke 16:8) The children of this world know how to be prudent for the future. In this parable the steward cancelled his commission so that in the future, if he were fired, he would have people he could call on for help. The steward in the parable was economically prudent during a crisis. In fact, Jesus says, he was more prudent than the children of light. In other words, economists can sometimes be more concerned about their economic future than Christians are about their spiritual future. In that sense, economists, with their thinking about the future and making provisions, put Christians to shame if Christians do not spare a thought for the future salvation of their souls.

Then in the Gospel we hear other teachings from Jesus about wealth. He says to use money to have friends to welcome us into eternity.  An example of this in Scripture is almsgiving. I would suggest that we could think of other passages in Scripture that tell us almsgiving is very pleasing to God. For example, in the Acts of the Apostles, Cornelius is told in a vision that his prayers and almsgiving have ascended to God (Acts 10:4,31). Peter writes in his letter that charity, which could include almsgiving, covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8) So Jesus is saying not only is the prudence of economists for the future an example of how Christians should be concerned for their future salvation, but Christians are to use money in a way that is spiritually beneficial for their future. Therefore if someone is careless about money, which is only for this life, what will that person’s attitude be to true riches, life with God?  The reason why Jesus urges care with the use of money is because we can serve only one master, God or mammon.

So Jesus’ teaching leaves us with lots of questions we could ask ourselves. Are we even more concerned about our future salvation than economists are about their financial future? Are we living in such a way that our eternal salvation comes first? Do we use our money in a way that is spiritually beneficial for us? What comes first in our life, God or mammon? It was also putting God first that the prophet Amos preached, and in the first reading (Amos 8:4-7), Amos tells us that incorrect use of money is displeasing to God. Traders had tampered with the scales so they could make an even bigger profit and they were impatient for the Jewish holy days of new moon and Sabbath to finish so that they could get back to making money.

As we contemplate putting God first in everything, even in economics, the second reading also urges putting God first (1 Tim 2:1-8), putting God first in society. Paul asks for prayers “for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” (1 Tim 2:2) So just as God is to be allowed to enter into economics, God is also to be allowed to enter into politics and civil laws so “that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” This is also the teaching of Pope Benedict during his address in Westminster Hall two days ago (Friday, September 17th 2010). That hall saw the trials and condemnations to death of St. Thomas More and St. John Cardinal Fisher, the only English bishop to stand up for the Church and remain entirely faithful to the Catholic Church during the reign of King Henry VIII. It was very significant then that in that same hall our Holy Father urged to allow faith to shed light on political decisions. By reason, we should already know what is right and wrong, and know the foundation for political decisions. Adding faith to reason will help to purify and shed further light on our decisions. Therefore Pope Benedict said,

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation.

Without religion, reason can be distorted, and our Holy Father refers to the widespread belief that it was a lack of ethical principles that led to the current economic collapse. On the other hand, Pope Benedict notes that it was ethical principles that led to the abolition of the slave trade by the British Parliament. Therefore he urges

the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

Pope Benedict’s words echo Paul asking for prayers “for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” (1 Tim 2:2)

Today the teaching of Jesus asks us to put God first, to be even more concerned about our future salvation than economists are about their financial future, and to use money in a way that is spiritually beneficial for us. Paul urged prayers for civil leaders that religion may be practiced freely and Pope Benedict urges contemporary civil leaders to add faith to reason, in order to purify and shed further light on decisions.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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