Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pentecost 23 ~ Proper 25C ~ October 23, 2016

Sermon for The Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 25  ~  October 23, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Well, aren’t you glad you’re not like the Pharisee? I know I am! And here we have yet another parable that turns out to be a paradox, when we think about it a little. Naturally I will identify with one of the characters, and who would not wish to identify with the one who goes down to his house justified? That means I have to imagine that I am not like the Pharisee! But in so thinking, I become just like him: he said I thank you God that I am not as other men — for example this publican! And I say I thank you God that I am not as other men — for example this Pharisee! It's a joke!
As bad a mistake as it is to identify with the Publican in this self-congratulatory way, and to think that I am better than the Pharisee, there is one almost as bad that goes along with it: to imagine the Pharisees a bunch of corrupt hypocrites. Indeed, the very word came to mean that in Christian usage. Phariseeism came to mean that reliance upon their own righteousness, with which the Evangelist begins the parable. By the time he wrote, relations between the Early Church and the rest of the Jews who did not regard Jesus as the Messiah were pretty bad, and so it was easy to regard the Pharisees as the enemy, and to make them into a caricature. The Pharisees thought that observance of the law was the main thing, with or without the Temple. They were at odds in this, and many other matters of doctrine, with the Saducees, who considered that the Temple was all-important. We should not forget, that Jesus was on their side in all of this — angels, general resurrection at the end of time, the notion that the Temple was not essential — Jesus shared all these views with the Pharisees, while the Sadducees denied them. When the Temple was destroyed — just before St. Luke wrote his Gospel — the Saducees disappeared, and the Church and the Pharisees — who were pretty much the same as the synagogue Jews all over the Empire —both considered themselves the continuing People of the Covenant. So, there may have been a polemical reason for casting the bad guy in the story as a Pharisee.
But I think to content ourselves with this misses the point. The point is that the Pharisees were good guys. Like Joseph of Arimathæa and Nicodemus and even Simon, the Pharisee who had Jesus over for dinner. (Even though he wasn’t as attentive as a host as he might’ve been, Jesus did accept his invitation.)  So it may be that St. Luke’s chose the Pharisee as a foil for the Publican precisely because he WAS a good man.  The dreadful paradox is that as long as he thinks he is a good man, then he is deluded, and he is not even as good as the Publican, who dares not raise his eyes to heaven. So, if I identify with the latter, I may fall into the trap of condemning the Pharisee, and thus become like what I condemn!
That may be one of the meanings of this parable: we become like what- ever we condemn.
Real repentance is necessary – repentance like the Publican’s, which relies solely on God’s mercy. If we think we deserve anything good, we had better think again (re-pent). Fortunately, the Good News is that God loves us and desires to shower blessings on us. The only thing that can prevent Him is our own will, which can refuse Him in many ways. Among the most subtle refusals is the belief that I deserve grace. As long as I cling to that delusion, I am like the Pharisee, even though I may imagine that I am like the Publican.
So the Collect for today prays for Grace: the increase of faith, hope, and love. As St. Augustine observed, like the Trinity, these supernatural virtues are one in essence. If you have one of them, you have all three. Obviously the Publican had faith and hope. He would not have been there had he not trusted in God’s mercy and hoped to receive it. And perhaps we can discern charity in his refusal to judge anyone but himself.
Nothing is more important, because there is nothing more toxic to our soul’ s health than judging another, as the Pharisee did. It is an obvious violation of the second great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, but it is also a blasphemous violation of the first commandment, to love God, since I can judge another person only by putting myself in God’s place, shoving Him off the mercy-seat, and taking over myself.
May God deliver us from that hideous delusion, and with the Publican grant us the increase of faith, hope, and charity, the grace always to remember the stunning, ravishing, astonishing words from the lips of God Himself: I tell you, this man and not the other went down to his house justified.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Pentecost 22 ~ Proper 24C ~ October 16, 2016

Sermon for The Twenty-second Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 24  ~  October 16, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

The pairing of this parable of the Unjust Judge and the Importunate Widow with Jacob’s wrestling-match with God invites us to think of the Unjust Judge as an allegorical representation of God. But that cannot be so. That would be absurd, a contradiction in terms. In fact it’s kind of a joke to think of it that way; maybe it is purposely funny in order to force us outside of our ordinary habits of thinking. The parable is also a good example of why straightforward allegory is not always useful. The point certainly is not that if we pester God enough, eventually He will be sufficiently annoyed to do what we ask! Still, the meaning must have something to do with the Importunate Widow’s persistence. “Perseverance furthers,” as the I Ching famously advises. And persistence, perseverance, not giving up IS what ties the gospel with the prophecy.

I think this parable is about perseverance in prayer — in spiritual practice. It is definitely not about a contest of wills between the soul and God, but it is about breakthroughs. All of life is a series of breakthroughs, isn’t it? We are conceived and new life breaks through. After gestation, we break through into the world. Then our physical and emotional and mental development are all a series of breakthroughs: more or less painful breakthroughs, as we make the natural transitions in life. Finally, we break through into Larger Life when we die, an event Sufis as well as Christians call New Birth. The Wise tell us that the same is true of our spiritual life, which is the purpose of all the other levels of our life. The problem is that there is a conflict between our calling into more and more being, more and more reality, more and more love, and our natural inclination to stay where we are.

I think that is what the Unjust Judge represents: the wall — the shell — we all build around our individuality. We need such a shell, just as an egg needs its shell in order to live, but it turns out to be a prison for our personhood. Eventually, the new check has to break it and leave it behind. The Widow represents the self that is striving to leave that individuality behind and to become a person. The Widow represents the self called to sound through that wall, to break it down, to wear it out, to break through the shell. Whatever our religious practice, if it comes out of a genuine spiritual tradition and we stick with it, the Unjust Judge will give up and give us what we want. He represents the part of ourselves that doesn’t want to change, the shell. The Widow represents the part of us that does. All she can do is to keep asking. All we can do is to persevere in prayer, understood in the broadest possible way. The Unjust Judge has all kinds of ways of refusing the demands of the Widow:
1)   “No one is listening. There is no God. You are just wasting your time."
2)   “Don’t you have something else to do? Couldn’t you spend your limited time doing something more useful?"
3)   “This isn’t getting you anywhere. You know very well that you’re not making any so-called ‘progress'. There is no such thing."
4)   “There is no ‘Unseen Reality.’ What you see is what you get.”
And so on. There is truth to all of these refusals:
    1) Indeed, there is no God of the kind we are capable of imagining. It does not follow, however, that there is no God. And if there is, then what better way to spend our time?
    2) Sure I have something else to do, but what could be more important than fulfilling the purpose for which I came into existence?
    3) While it’s true that I don’t notice any progress, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is no progress. In fact, the Wise tells us that we are never in a position to observe our own progress. There is no way I can tell if I am getting anywhere, because the very wall I am trying to break down is my habitually self-regarding consciousness.
    4) Unseen Reality, by definition, transcends our consciousness. While I may accept the reality of what I see, it does not follow that there is nothing that I cannot see. Faith, as Paul says, is the “evidence of things unseen.” That’s a paradox, because evidence means visible proof, and Faith is not that kind of proof, but rather the will to entertain the possibility of Unseen Reality. Opening to it is our purpose, and what better way to spend our time

The Unjust Judge is the self-regarding consciousness, unwilling to entertain any other possibility. Unjust indeed! The judgments of that consciousness are not right. Fearing neither God nor man, the self-regarding consciousness defends against any attempt to break through it, whether the adoration of God or the love of our fellow beings. The practice of the remembrance of God — repeated RETURN TO the consciousness that adores the Unseen the Reality and recognizes the same consciousness in everyone we encounter — that remembrance will overcome the Unjust Judge if the Importunate Widow will only persevere.

Maybe that is one of the meanings of Paul’s advice to “pray without ceasing.” To do so literarily, with mantras or dhikr, such as the Jesus Prayer, is commendable. But that takes a lot of practice. Perseverance consists in repeated return when our consciousness wanders or our practice falls off. The woman asks, is refused, and goes away. Then she comes back to ask again, over and over again, day after day, and she never gives up returning. Maybe to pray without ceasing does not only mean to pray continually but never to give up, to return to the practice of remembrance without giving up.

As I said this is not a matter of a contest of wills, in which I am determined that my will shall prevail. In fact, it is very nearly the opposite. My will is the Unjust Judge. The Importunate Widow is the practice of remembrance, the Spirit insisting on conforming my will to God’s. God does not have to be convinced to love us. God is not the Unjust Judge. God, rather, is at work within us to wear down the resistance of the self-regarding consciousness, which in the end wears out. The breakthrough that follows is mysterious. Love breaks in as the Soul breaks out, like a chicken breaking out of the egg shell, which it no longer needs.

Our part in this is faith — the willingness to entertain the possibility of Unseen Reality, but also the fidelity of our perseverance in repetitive practice, like the Importunate Widow. That is how we give an affirmative answer to the Lord’s question: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

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Saturday, October 08, 2016

Pentecost 21, Proper 23 C ~ October 9, 2016

Sermon for The Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 23  ~  October 9, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

 “Your faith has saved you.”

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

We pray in the Collect that God’s grace may always precede and follow us. We would be surrounded by grace, enveloped in it, so encompassed in it that we maybe don’t even notice it. As is often the case, The Collect has us ask for that which is already granted, only we don’t recognize it. So, as is often the case, we are praying for a change in our own consciousness. What we are asking for is consciousness of grace, that is to say a consciousness characterized by gratitude.
As the Jesuits say, all is grace. Grace is the basic fact of the universe. The free gift of God, to which our only response can be the joyful recognition of the gift. We call the recognition gratitude. The Samaritan leper represents the minority of us who become conscious of grace. The other nine are not wicked; they are just spiritual infants. They are consumed with joy about their own healing, as well they might be, but they take it for granted. I don’t think God holds that against them. But they will be even happier when they become  conscious of the grace they enjoy.
For gratitude is heaven. That is to say, it is complete self-forgetfulness: human attention focused entirely on the love of God. Most of us have felt it for a moment or two. It is consciousness of grace, which usually lasts briefly. Eternal life is permanent consciousness of the grace that ever precedes and follows us. Perfect, timeless gratitude, the self lost in the adoration of Divine Love — that is heaven. We can believe that it is real, because we have experienced it momentarily. When we are thankful in that self-forgetful sense, however briefly, we are conscious of Eternal Reality, and we have seen the Kingdom of God, come in glory here and now, before we die, as our Lord promised.
I like to tell the story, from time to time, of the Hasidic rabbi who could never read much of the Torah in public, because as soon as he, came to the words “God said…” He fell in ecstasy and could not go on. The holy man had experienced some slight inkling of what it means to say that God reveals Himself to us. It is an impossibility, which we nevertheless experience, though rarely. Mostly, we are like the nine lepers — overjoyed, but not aware of God’s grace. It is as though you or I had decided to communicate with insects, or even with a microbe. How would we go about it? How would we get through them? All of the world’s genuine holy Scriptures are accounts of building that kind of bridge. It is all God’s doing, bridging our separation from Him and from one another, and bringing us gradually together in gratitude, which is to say in grace. Grace that always precedes and follows us.
The Samaritan leper is a foreigner, as the Gospel calls him, an alien. That’s significant: His kind of gratitude is foreign to us. We have to learn it, and most of us don’t. We have to practice it, if we are to fulfill our purpose as human beings. Life is a school of gratitude, and a good life is one marked by more and more gratitude. More and more grace.
Jesus says that the grateful leper was healed by his faith. Then what saved the other nine, who were healed of their leprosy as surely as the Samaritan? All of them, after all, had asked Jesus to heal them. All of them, must’ve had some faith. Maybe Jesus is talking about some healing – some salvation – besides the leprosy, when he said to that single Samaritan ex-leper, “your faith has made you whole.”
Maybe the story is about God’s gracious work, piercing our own limitation: the insect-like distance between Reality and our consciousness. Here, perhaps, the veil of appearance is lifted, and we see for a moment God’s gracious work, symbolized by the gratitude of the Samaritan leper. His joy at his own good fortune, was enlarged into an even greater dawning of the consciousness of limitless grace, as he fell at Jesus feet. Maybe, like the Hasidic rabbi, he had fallen in ecstasy. That would be appropriate, a fitting human response to the, momentary and overwhelming consciousness of grace, the grace that always precedes and follows us, though most of us fail to see it. In that case, the Samaritan's faith, which Jesus says has saved him, saved him not from leprosy, but from our microbial consciousness, and its inability to adore God.
We come to this place, like the Samaritan leper, to give thanks. Eucharist. Good gift. Good grace. Eucharisto. Thank you, in Greek. We come to practice gratitude, so that — with practice — it may become more and more natural to us, as our microbial consciousness is gradually replaced by the consciousness of Grace that always precedes and follows us, the consciousness that is the grateful adoration of Infinite Love.

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Saturday, October 01, 2016

Pentecost 20, Proper 22 C ~ October 2, 2016

Sermon for The Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 22  ~  October 2, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
 “I no longer call you servants, but I call you friends.”

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Slaves obey the commandments of their master because they have to. And when they have done so, they have nothing to brag about.  They have just done what they had to do. They do not expect the master to thank them or to wait on them.  Furthermore, their service is never finished, no matter how much they do. We Christians, who call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ, must consider ourselves to be His slaves, in exactly this sense.
What are we to make of this passage — this difficult passage. I think we must take it in the context of the whole Gospel, where in another place Jesus says to the apostles I no longer call you slaves, but friends. Notice He does not say that we are no longer slaves, but that he no longer calls us slaves.
The paradox is found in one of the Collects for Daily Morning Prayer, which refers to God as the One Whose service is perfect freedom. [In the admirable economy of the Latin, Quia servire regnare est — Whom to serve is to reign.] Could it be that the meaning of today’s Gospel passage is that in accepting our slavery to Christ, we find the only real freedom?
In the context of this paradox, more are revealed. We can readily agree that a master does not invite the slaves to sit at table and wait on them, when they come in from the field. And yet that is exactly what Jesus does for us, isn’t it? He feeds us, as he fed those first twelve Apostles, around the table of the Holy Eucharist. And He doesn’t stop there: in the Fourth Gospel, He feeds us and then washes our feet, like a slave.
From this we learn that God is not our Master, but our Friend, even our Servant. With Peter, we may be tempted to object to this role-reversal — the humility of God in washing us. Our natural consciousness is more comfortable with the notion that we are God’s slaves, who must not expect even to sit down to dinner, much less to be washed by Him. But then, also with Peter, we must learn that we have no part in Him unless we permit Him to serve us. For if we will not permit it, how will we learn to serve one another?
Our nature does not willingly serve others. But others are Christ, since He has told us that whatever we do to them we do to Him. So, we must learn to serve others, if we would serve Him. We must demand no service of others, as we would not dream of demanding service from Him. But since he has washed our feet, and seated us at table as equals, as friends, so must we do to Him in return, in the person of every human being we encounter.
A slave cannot expect a master to reverse roles and serve him, just because the slave has fulfilled his tasks. And yet, that is exactly the kind of Master Jesus is. I no longer call you servants [slaves, that is], but I call you friends.” Indeed, He does share His table with His disciples, whom He calls friends, and afterwards washes their feet, a slave’ s job. He tells us He does so to give us an example of how we should behave toward one another. He makes it clear that what we do to other people, we do to Him.
So, maybe we can understand this story as showing us that we have obligations to one another that exceed the normal demands of ordinary, civilized morality. There is no question that we have to work in the fields — we have to treat other people with the basic level of respect. But when we have done that, we have not fulfilled our duty. We must love one another, as He has loved us. That is His commandment, which He enacted by washing our feet, after the Supper of Friends. We are to do likewise, treating each other as our Master, that is as Christ Himself. We are not to imagine that we have fulfilled His New Commandment because we have behaved with ordinary lawfulness and decency. If Christ really is our Master, as we like to say, then our duties to one another exceed ordinary kindness. We must serve one another, as a slave serves a Master.
Now, of course, we must add the qualification that we don’t have to obey the orders of every single person we encounter, as a literal slave obeys a master! That is not what the New Commandment means. Rather, I think it means that we are to recognize the unlimited value of every person we encounter, and to treat that person accordingly, that is, as the embodiment of Christ: Jesus Christ Himself, right in front of us. Indeed, we have promised no less in our baptismal vows: to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. SERVE CHRIST IN PERSONS.  To be their slaves, not in the sense of obeying them, but in the sense that our obligations to their well-being are limited only by our own abilities.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pentecost 19, Proper 21 - September 25, 2016

Sermon for The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 21  ~  September 25, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

The love of money is the root of every kind of evil.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

“You cannot serve God and mammon.” That is where we left off last week. Our Lord tells us that serving mammon (which means money) is inimical to spiritual life. We heard about the crafty steward, who was put in charge of his master’s ill-gotten gains and turned them to his own advantage by forgiving the debts of the poor, so that they would take care of him when mammon failed.  The theme continues this week in our Lord’s parable of Dives and Lazarus.
Again we hear of the necessity of solidarity with the poor, which is the essence of the Gospel. The poor are favored by God. The Kingdom of God is for the poor. Our own well-being depends on a right relationship to the poor and to money.
I’m afraid NRSV errs theologically in translating mammon as wealth. Wealth means well-being. Money is useful as a medium of exchange, but spiritually deadly as a measure of well-being. What the NRSV calls “dishonest wealth” is better rendered in the King James version as unrighteous mammon. That means the use of money to maintain unjust relationships among human beings.
Dives and Lazarus have only one thing in common: they are both human. That means they are both mortal. And they both die. “Dives” is the traditional name for the rich man of the parable. It simply means “rich man”. Dives is defined as rich. In this story he is nothing but the archetype of a rich man: one who serves not God, but Mammon — that is, money as the measure of distinction, or separation between people. That archetype — being defined as having — cannot enter the Kingdom of God. The problem is that the archetypical Dives cannot imagine his own death. He is deeply unaware of the homely truism that “you can’t take it with you." He wastes his life denying death, while Lazarus has been experiencing it outside his door. The parable illuminates the contrast between the way of mortification and the way of illusion.
Mortification means the remembrance of death. It is essential to a healthy spiritual life. Dives-consciousness misinterprets the term to mean a morbid preoccupation accompanied by bizarre practices of a more or less masochistic kind: hair shirts, chains, excessive fasting, and the like. But these exaggerations undertaken by certain very advanced ascetics, are not the essence of mortification. The essence is the recognition of our mortality, which is to say the recognition of our common humanity. Dives and Lazarus are alike in death. We are all equal in death. Distinctions of material wealth in this life are a trap, the very definition of sin — even of original sin, understood (following St. Ambrose) as the confusion of being and having. The antidote is alms-giving, among the most important of the practices of mortification.
Mortals, human beings, have nothing; imagining that we do is Dives’ dreadful mistake. In so far as we do not share it, insofar as we fail to establish solidarity with Lazarus in this life, thus far are we separated from Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. There is no bridge across the chasm for Dives as archetype. I do not take this story to prove any doctrine of everlasting damnation, the idea that there is anything that actual persons can do to place themselves beyond the reach of God’s mercy. As the Collect reminds us, God declares almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity. We can hope that the grace of God may purge us of our own participation in the archetype, even after death. The more we share the illusions of Dives, the more will need to be purged. Might as well start now.
Our personal consciousness survives our physical death. The state of that survival is continuous with its state in this life. I think that supposition clearly underlies the story of Dives and Lazarus. It is also a cautionary tale about those who are content to sink themselves in delusion by shaping their consciousness to conform to the Dives archetype, regarding distinctions of possession as the only reality. As Paul writes to Timothy,

The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Dives’ lack of concern for the poor man at his doorstep expresses his deformed consciousness. His delusion creates a barrier between him and Lazarus, the separation theology calls “sin”, a barrier that becomes an unbridgeable chasm, when they both die. It seems that even though Lazarus may wish to do so, he cannot not help Dives in his suffering. I think the point is that Dives’ predicament is of his own making, bad karma that he will have to work through, not that it is necessarily permanent. He has made his own bed, now he has to lie in it. Maybe for quite a long time, because his consciousness is not fit for eternity and the Vision of God. But that does not mean that he is personally beyond the mercy of God. That would be impossible.
The parable certainly cautions us not to neglect the poor. But it applies to everyone in a deeper sense too, warning us against our own favorite illusions — chief among them that we are immortal. Dives forgets about his death and encounter with God, for which this life is a preparation. Possession has nothing to do with this encounter. Or rather, our so-called “possessions” measure our ultimate well-being only to the extent that we place them at the service of the poor.
Dives may have been rich — by definition — but he was not wealthy. He did not really enjoy well-being, but only a counterfeit, an illusion. Worldly possession is genuine wealth only when it is the instrument of solidarity with the poor. Had Dives established such solidarity in this mortal life, his worldly possessions would not have separated him from Lazarus in the next. It is the same theme as last week’s crafty steward, who used money to make friends with the poor, so that when the inevitable happened, they would welcome him into their dwellings.
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, because it causes us to forget God and the fact that we shall shortly encounter Him. The delusion of possession is so seductive that the ancient Christian desert ascetics regarded it as the most subtle and dangerous of temptations. Men and women who had passed every other spiritual test might succumb in the end to avarice.
The modern Church restates the same truth in up-to-date language as the “preferential option for the poor.” The Church as a whole supports policies that favor the poor, and asks its members to do the same in their lives. The story of Dives and Lazarus is about the unquestionable necessity of this choice for nations as well as for persons. As the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth, observed:

Between the rich man and the poor man, heaven does not adopt a position of neutrality: the rich man can take care of his own future, God is on the side of the poor.


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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Pentecost 18, Proper 20, September 18, 2016

Sermon for The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 20  ~  September 18, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth
so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

So, today we learn from Jesus that we should cheat our boss! This is one of my favorite passages, because it is obviously ironic, maybe even comic. I also like it because it is a great cudgel with which to punish literalists. Obviously, interpretation is necessary, and the Gospel itself even supplies its own – if you don’t handle unrighteous wealth properly, then you can’t expect anyone to entrust you with real wealth. What is dishonest wealth anyway? – or unrighteous mammon? Wealth just means well-being, usually material well-being, by convention. What makes wealth unrighteous is reserving well-being for the few and denying it to the many. Well-being turned into a measure of division among human beings is unjust, unrighteous. In fact, it is not really well­being, at all.
The question remains, what is the proper way to handle this unrighteous wealth? Give it away. That’s my take. In effect that is what the crafty steward was doing. We have to bear in mind that his master’s wealth was unjust. In fact, one can argue from this parable that distinctions of rich and poor are themselves unjust and sinful. So inequality in society is NOT the will of God, but rather the opposite, and wealth that is not held for the common good is unrighteous mammon, or unjust wealth, which has no rights at all.
This interpretation is suggested and supported by the lectionary’s pairing with the stirring prophetic passage from Amos.
[I always like to remember that Amos is the earliest full Book of the whole Bible. It is thought to have reached its present form in the middle of the 8th Century BC., which makes it a late contemporary of Homer, older than Buddha, the Bhagavad Gita, Confucius and Laotze. It is also entirely possible that the Book of Amos was actually written by the Prophet himself.]
It is forever significant that this oldest book in the Bible is all about social justice. Do you want to please God? Do you want to go to heaven when you die? Do you want to get into harmony with Divine Will? Do you want to live a life fitting for a human being? Do you want to use your time in this life profitably? Then devote yourself to the poor and combat social injustice. Well, that is – arguably – exactly what the dishonest steward was doing! Sure, he was doing it out of selfish motives, but the effect was to reduce social inequality.
Another interpretative hint is today’s Collect, which reminds us that we are placed among things that are passing away, and asks for the grace to hold tight to what will endure. Well, money and social inequality is passing away. The power of Empire is passing away. The illusion of our divisions is passing away, and the sinful systems that arise from that illusion are passing away. Amos called this ultimate passing the Day of the Lord. He coined the term to refer to God’s victory over human injustice – good news for widows and orphans, bad news – very bad news – for their oppressors. The Day of Doom.
At the ancient beginning of our written scripture – at the door, as it were, of our whole tradition – stands this denunciation of social injustice. Our Divine Savior confirms it and underlines it. He tells us, “If nothing else, dissociate yourself from this doomed, delusional way of life. Maybe it’s impossible to avoid all contact with unrighteous mammon - fair enough. But you don’t have to hold on to it. Instead, use it against itself.  Let go of it and invest it in the oppressed. Use it to further the common good.”
The funniest part of this parable is the detail about the congratulatory attitude of the Master, upon learning that the dishonest steward had cheated him! That is unimaginable on the literal level, and I take it as another hint that the story is not to be understood as literal advice about cheating the boss. What is true is that all this wealth is illusory and passing away. It’s doomed, and those who hold on tight to it and devote their lives to it are doomed, too.
    Unrighteous mammon will always let us down, as the boss let down the steward. Better to establish solidarity with the poor, the last who shall be first, the beneficiaries of the Kingdom of God.



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