The Scriptures this week forcefully remind me of two points I have repeated many times over the last 49-years! The first is – there is no such thing as an isolated or individual Christian. The second – there is no such thing as an egocentric Christian.
The poet, John Donne, sums it all up quite splendidly in lines entitled DEVOTIONS. There he wrote:
“No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” A few lines earlier he had written: “but I do nothing upon myself, and yet I am mine own Executioner.”
What a dramatic piece of Christian catechesis!
We should all be allergic to the thought process which proclaims a preoccupation with ‘the salvation of my soul’. Salvation is, essentially, a community, group affair focussed on the salvation of the world, the universe. If the wheel does not turn full circle – from Genesis to Revelations – for the whole of Creation then ‘my’ salvation does not happen. In any case, the WHOLE person is ‘saved’ – not only the soul!
In addition, the allergy should include the approach which proposes that ‘I am a Christian but do not believe in going to church’. The Gospel in general records many allusions to Jesus going to the synagogue on the Sabbath – “as he always did.” The Old Testament is the story of a PEOPLE, a people who came together under the law of God (the Covenant) in a particular way of group living, and worshipped HIM as a community.
Then, the allergies are confronted by the New Testament which records Jesus gathering a group around himself. The ACTS OF THE APOSTLES on its own has many references to the first Christians meeting together for prayer, the breaking of bread and listening to the teaching of the apostles. Add to this evidence the teachings of the Lord regarding the image of what we measure out will be the measure we receive!
WE NEED TO SEE ALL THREE OF THIS SUNDAY’S SCRIPTURE READINGS AGAINST THIS GENERAL BACKGROUND
AMOS 8: 4 – 7
1 TIMOTHY 2: 1 – 8
LUKE 16: 1 – 13
In the Amos reading see the egocentric, selfish, materialistic concern with self – together with a basic dishonesty which is camouflaged by a cynical outward observance of religious obligations – “and the sabbath (over) …. make the ephah small, and the shekel great, and deal deceitfully with false balances.” Is it cynical to observe that not much has changed over the centuries?
Then, notice the teaching of Saint Paul which concerns the leading “of a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.” The apostle then refers to “God our Saviour who desires all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.” In every way and in all my relationships, if I deal deceitfully with false balances, I am introducing UNTRUTH into the lives of those around me, making myself unacceptable in the sight of God, prejudicing any hope of a quiet and peaceable life, and becoming a barrier to the salvation of others. Indeed, I become my own executioner. I am only able to minimise others by first minimising myself. Too often we overlook the fact that I help others to salvation, AND THEY HELP ME. I am not an island but a PART OF THE MAIN! I am not the main. I am only a part!
So, we look at today’s Gospel! Who was the dishonest steward ‘looking after’ – the debtors or himself? It does not take a rocket scientist to discern that he was not remotely interested in anybody else but himself. He had already minimised himself so it was easy for him to minimise others. The dishonesty in relation to the master was now easily applied to the debtors. The application of the inability to serve God and mammon is plain to see. In addition, he was hampering the salvation of the debtors.
Yes, indeed he was astute, but astuteness should never be confused with virtue. It is only the astuteness which is commended – and in this, the master is allowing himself to be minimised. As a result the salvation of all concerned is put at risk. Jesus does not commend the commendation!
Notice how the allusion to serving two masters fits Amos’ symbol of making the ephah small, the shekel great, and the deceit of false balances.