A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for September, 2013

What happens when you steal from your boss?

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is “on the road” to Jerusalem.  Every stop is like reaching a crossroad with a signpost saying, “Jerusalem this way.”  The stop then becomes an occasion for teaching his followers.  This message (Luke 16:1-13) is a parable about the dishonest manager who steals from his boss.  Briefly, the manager quite likely has been skimming from his boss, who finds out about it, and is going to fire the manager.

The manager tries to figure out what to do.  Suddenly, he decides to call in his boss’ debtors and remove his commission from their debt.  This way, he would have grateful debtors who will undoubtedly do him a favor some day–now that he is being fired.  But a curious thing happened.  The boss, in addition to firing the manager, praised him for the prudence he took in preparing for his departure.  What is going on here?  Why praise for “prudence” instead of justifying the firing?

For an explanation we look at the three applications that follow the parable. These applications take the form of  contrasts. The first contrast is between the “children of the world” and the “children of light.”  The “children of light” are obviously followers of Christ.  They have to be prudent in the use of material possessions.

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Decisions, decisions…

How good are you at decision making?  Does the choice depend upon the types of challenges facing you?  Or is the dependency based on motivation?  That is, will people be affected positively or negatively by my choice?

In Luke’s Gospel (14:25-33), Jesus is still “on the road” to Jerusalem about to make another stop–which means another message.  This message is about decision making.  Jesus asks the folks present, in effect, “Do you want to be my disciple under the following conditions?”  Most likely, the people were impressed with the works of Jesus and undoubtedly apppreciated his style.  Who wouldn’t want to be a disciple?  But the conditions raised serious reflections.  What were they?

First, the willingness to leave strong family ties.  Family ties were very strong, so one had to think seriously before challenging them.

Second, the willingness to face radical self-denial by carrying one’s cross and follow Jesus.   It meant asking for some kind of trust during moments of fear, frustration, panic, and pain.  Bad things happen, and one often does not know what to do or where to go.

Third, the willingness to give up personal possessions, especially if they are obstacles to ministry.  These are three difficult conditions for Christian discipleship.  But what do they really mean?

The first condition has to do with family (and friends as well).  The fact is that sometimes families don’t understand your ministry in helping others, namely, by doing justice, being compassionate,  and displaying forgiveness,  Apparently, they seem to operate from a different value system.  Consequently ,our choice  becomes quite difficult if we want to keep our family happy.

The second condition has to do with the self.  The reality is that we do have to experience pain, sorrow, frustration on a regular basis.  It is good to know that with faith and hope we believe that after Jesus’ pain and death there was a resurrection.  We hope that we will have one also.

The third condition has to do with things.  Consumerism can be a deadly vice in that it becomes necessary for us to have the latest gadget, regardless of price, so that our waking moments become ones of living up to the advertisements.  Francis of Assisi gave up material possessions because they were in the way of fulfilling his ministry to others.

What can we learn from the above biblical reading?  Several things, but especially the conscious choice to become effective disciples of Jesus.  What does that mean?  We know, in fact, that it is not an easy  decision to make.  Jesus himself recommended several criteria in order to be an effective disciple, namely, some regarding family, self, and things.

In prayer, which is nothing more than conversation with God, we ask for help in making the right choice, particularly in humility.  Remember that humility is really telling  the truth about oneself, both the gifts and the limitations.  With that in mind, the choice would be difficult but, quite likely, positively effective.

 

“Oops, sorry!”….

Have you ever been truly embarrassed?  By “truly” I mean having a flushed face and not knowing where to hide.  I had such an experience.  In my pre-teen years I was a newsboy, delivering newspapers on a busy route.  The trick was to fold the papers in a certain way, so that when you threw them they would most likely land on the porch or the front steps.  The wind had to be right and the flick of the wrist would do it.  Almost like shooting baskets.  The customers wanted the papers before dark.  Alway before dark.

One cloudy day, I came upon a house with a large window behind the porch.  There was  a small child, with his face cradled by his hands,  looking out.  With this distraction and a sudden gust of wind, I threw the paper hoping to hit the porch.  It didn’t.  The paper hit the window and the window broke.  I had two options.  Face the music or finish the route before dark then come back.

Having finished the route, I came home and discovered that the owner of the broken window was there to greet me.   He was there and my Mom wanted to know what was going on.  I was truly embarrassed.  My face was flushed and I found no place to hide.  I should have chosen the first option.

In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 14:7-14)  Jesus talks about avoiding embarrassment.  He is invited to dinner, and  one of the things he notices is that many of the guests are heading for the places of honor at the table.  This observation causes a comment.  Something like, “What if somebody more important than you comes?  Then the host will set you at one of the lowest places at the table.”  No doubt a suggestion to avoid embarrassment.

What was Jesus tryin to say here?  Most likely, thar his disciples must be “humble” and not “self-seeking.”  What does that mean?  The “humility” of Jesus meant that we, as disciples,  should tell the TRUTH about ourselves including both the gifts and the limitations.  And be able to tell them apart.

What if you unable to sing a note or play an instrument?  Yet, you were a good listener so that people would come to you for a hearing.  The former can be a limitation and the latter a gift.  The task of every Christian is to carry on the ministry of Christ, which is, basically, justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.  We use our gifts to convey that ministry.  The limitations would most likely get in the way.  The challenge is to be able to distinguish between the gifts and the limitations.  Therein lies the effectiveness of our ministry.

Consequently, “humility” is knowing the truth about ourselves–the gifts as well as the limitations.  Doing ministry with our gifts, and not the limitations,  is one sure way to avoid embarassment.

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