Thursday, September 16, 2010

Homily for the 25th Sunday of the Year (C)

‘You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’ (Luke 16:13)

In the old translations, this passage was often given as 'You cannot serve both God and Mammon'. It made money, or the love of Money, perhaps I should say, sound like another God. Who is your Master? Jesus appears to say to us: which God do you choose?

And from this, it could seem that the Christian has a stark choice. Riches and wealth are bad - poverty is good. To build up businesses, to create wealth, to amass goods and possessions might seem to be wrong, motivated by greed. And individual Christians, like St Francis, and groups of Christians like those in religious congregations and communities have seen their way as a much better one, indeed perhaps even the right one.

But, as always, this isn't quite what he says - or rather, his teaching is a little more sophisticated.

The rest of this Gospel makes very clear that money, far from being shunned, should be used. It makes things happens, it opens doors. Money saved the crooked steward in this odd parable - generosity in fraud is far preferable to pure greed. Money feeds our families. Money builds and maintains our churches. Money rescues the victims of disaster. Money opens doors - and this is a good image. It is a key, it serves a purpose, but it is not the door, neither is it the reward on the other side of the door.

And it is THIS which is Jesus teaching. He does not say that the fundamental life choice is God v. Mammon ... A battle for hearts and minds. No, he places before us rather a much more basic question. What is it that you really want from life? Do you want to collect things that cannot last, or cherish the things that do? Is your balance sheet written in currency or in kindness and compassion? Do you want a large collection of keys, or just use one of them to walk through the door?

This weekend sees the beatification of a great and holy man, John Henry Newman, and in his teaching he has a particular perspective on this choice. Each one of us, he says, has a particular work to do. Each of us has been chosen by God and finds our fulfilment in his will. It is a teaching about vocation, but also, I think, a basic teaching about what it means to be human. Human happiness comes from discovering, and fulfilling God's will for us. We might search for that happiness, and even think we've found it elsewhere: in possessions, in pleasures, in indulgence. But not one these ultimately satisfy.

God's will is the door to our happiness. And a lot of the time, we are just fumbling with the keys.

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