Are You Living For This World Or The Next?
Our material blessings are not simply there to build a more comfortable life for ourselves. Our material blessings are given so that we can accomplish good with it. The Lord asks us to build His Kingdom with our blessings, but in order to do that we must be generous.
God has given us tremendous gifts. We profit in many ways from the gifts that God has given us, but if we use our material blessings strictly for our own profit, we are missing the purpose of our blessings, which is to build His kingdom.
Our Lord is very clear about the importance of generosity in living the Christian life. How do you know if you're being generous and building His kingdom with your generosity? Luckily, there is an easy test. How much are you giving away? The average Catholic is the United States today gives less than 1% of their income. The biblical norm was 10%.
If we use whatever the good Lord has given us in this world to take care of others, especially the poor, Jesus will turn to us and tell us that whatever we did for them, he took personally: “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
Monsignor’s Homily Notes
25th Sunday in OT (C), Christ the King Parish, Milwaukie (2019)
Today Jesus tells us perhaps His most confusing parable. It wasn’t confusing to His listeners but it’s confusing to us. It seems as if Jesus is praising a crooked business manager for being deceitful. In order to answer this question, we first have to understand what was happening in the story and then ask the question what application Jesus is making to us, right here and now.
The steward is about to get fired because he was squandering the property of his master. So he called in those who owed his master money or things and reduced their debts considerably. At first glance, this seems like he’s stealing from his boss, but he’s not. In the ancient world [usury laws], the steward would be paid by tacking on an additional charge to what was owed the master, like a commission, but a commission that would be added on to what was borrowed, rather than taken out of the master’s profit. So if someone borrowed 50 denarii or 50 barrels of oil, he would have to pay back the 50 to the master and another 10, 30 or 50 to the steward. When the steward reduced the 100 containers of wheat to 80, he was eliminating most if not all of his commission. Therefore, he wasn’t stealing; he was giving up his take. Faced with the decision of saving his life by making friends who would take care of him after he was fired, or trying to hold out to the end onto the possibility of making money via these commissions, he chose to save his life. His master, and Jesus through the master, calls this prudent and wise.
Now that we’ve been able to make better sense of the parable, what’s the application to us? It’s actually quite stark and shocking. Each one of us is that steward in some way. Think about it. God has given us tremendous gifts, beginning with the gift of life, on the basis of which we have made profits, or tried to make profit. He has given us our hands, which we use to work. He has given us our brains, which we use to think. He has given us our relationships, money, jobs, etc. With these gifts, we have profited and made a commission. But whom have these profits benefited? The Master or ourselves? None of these gifts were meant strictly for ourselves and our own profits, but for being a co-worker with Him to build His kingdom.
In other words, our material blessings of relationships, money and possessions are not meant simply to build a more comfortable life for ourselves, but to do good with it. Really it comes down to asking ourselves a fundamental question: am I living for this world or the next? It’s so easy to give into the sinful cultural pressure to be self-focused with our money: buy this and that, keep up with the Jones’, etc. This selfish approach indicates making a home in this life rather than building a home for the next. And we know that this life eventually ends, and we can’t take any of our money or possessions into the next life. Now is the time to invest wisely.
One real easy measure that will help us answer this question is how much of my income do I give to the Church and to charity? The biblical norm was 10%. God is quite clear about that percentage in the Old Testament. Do you know that the average percentage Catholics give? Less than 1%. We should ask ourselves, am I in that 1%. We priests can be generous because our expenses are less so I give about 15-20% of my net income to this parish and to other worthy charities. In parishes on average, 10% of the parishioners provide about 90% of the donations, and a great number of parishioners give nothing. This parable is an invitation to think about how we are spending our money, where is it going? How much do I give to Christ the King? Is it more than I spend on coffee, eating out and entertainment? That’s a good place to start. I would love to see our parish go from about 10% of parishioners giving 90% of the budget to 20% or even 15 or 12%.
Everything we do here at the parish is to build the Kingdom of Heaven through evangelization, the Sacred Liturgy, Catholic education and helping those in need. As the pastor, I try to be a good steward with your donations. In fact, we were able to end last fiscal year with over a $100,000 surplus from what we budgeted, mostly from staffing adjustments. That surplus will go to areas we need like our school endowment and building projects.
How have we been spending the blessings we’ve been given? Are we helping Jesus build the Kingdom: our families (need much less than we think!), our parish, other God-centered charities? What can we do about our situation if we haven’t been as generous as He asks? Our Divine Physician tells us the remedy. We should do what the steward in the story did: Use the profit we tried to gain selfishly to give it to Him, so that He might take care of us in return. The implication is that if we don’t want to do the right thing simply because it is right thing to do, then at least we should do the right thing because it is in our best interest. Like that steward, we are faced with the choice between trying to keep our profits for ourselves or saving our lives. We cannot take money or possessions with us as we go.
The only thing that fits through the “eye of the needle” (Lk 18:25) are acts of love. If we use whatever the good Lord has given us in this world to take care of others, especially the poor, at our judgment and after it, they will be among those in Heaven who will be our advocate during the audit of our life and welcome us into the eternal home of heaven. Jesus will turn to us and tell us that whatever we did for them, he took personally: “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
Even if we’re not moved out of love to help someone less fortunate, we should at least do it out of self-interested prudence, because we will have to render an account. Jesus Himself says, we cannot serve both God and mammon. We have to make a choice, just like the steward in the account. He will also take care of us. I know people who are exceedingly generous with the Lord, and they tell me that somehow, they always seem to have enough. Jesus is never outdone in generosity.
Our loving Master says that the “children of this age” are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than “the children of light.” What he was saying is that people who are worldly are often times much more “prudent” than believers when it comes to making choices that concern their survival. Our experience shows how right Jesus is. If a businessman knows that a certain practice is losing him money, he eliminates it. He may try to fix it, but if he can’t, he gets rid of it, because he knows that in order to survive, he has got to cut it, otherwise he’ll end up in bankruptcy.
However, when we Christians know that a certain thing is losing us God’s grace, the most precious and valuable reality in this life, we seldom act in such a decisive and intelligent way. Even though such a serious sin might send us into eternal bankruptcy of Hell, we often don’t get rid of it. Jesus instructs us to act with bottom-line brutality when it concerns our salvation. The failure to cut out sinful behavior from our lives and not use our material resources to prepare for an eternal life in Heaven is, for Jesus, simply dumb.
In this parable, Jesus is essentially telling us to be smart about our salvation. In the final analysis, salvation is all that matters. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as we hear in the second reading, desires all to be saved. The Master desires us to be saved. But He who created us without our help will not save us without our help. We must choose to follow Him down the path he trod, down the way of loving and serving Him and loving and serving others.
Saying “yes” to God means saying “no” whatever is not compatible with God. Saying “yes” to God means using our heads and orienting everything we do toward that meeting with him face-to-face, in which we have to render our account. Unlike in the parable, when we meet him face-to-face, we’ll have no time to return and try to fix things. We have to fix them now. The Lord calls us always to be ready to render an account. We ask his help so that we might make those choices now, so that the Lord then will praise us for acting shrewdly, so that we can truly become shrewd children of the light!