Study Notes for the Sunday Mass Sunday, September 22, 2013

Last week we looked at the Gospel of Luke and discussed the famous parable of the prodigal son.  We saw as in the previous section of this Gospel that Jesus addressed the parable to the Pharisees.  Remember that these people were the religious group who believed in strict adherence to Jewish Law, at least as they interpreted it, and also in life after death.  This week later in this lesson we will return to the Gospel of Luke and pick up where we left off last week and cover the parable of the unjust steward.

 

Let’s look at the first reading.  We cannot know God apart from His revelation.  One form of this revelation is the prophetic writings of the Old Testament.   The reading for today is from Amos who is known as a “minor prophet.” This is not because he was inferior to the others but because his book is shorter than some of the other prophetic books like Isaiah who is referred to as a “major prophet.” Read the opening verse of Amos to get an orientation to the text. 

The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa-- what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel (Amos 1:1).

The text says that Amos was a shepherd prophet, and that he spoke about “what he saw concerning Israel” and this was “when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.”  From this we know that Amos’ prophecy occurred during the time after the division of the people into the kingdoms of Judah in the south and Israel in the north.  The split was brought about by the arrogance of King Solomon’s son Rehoboam and as a result the ten northern tribes formed their own kingdom.  Scholars date the events in Amos to around 760BC. Tekoa is a village located 5 miles south of Bethlehem, in the Kingdom of Judah, and was set upon a hill.  Cities set upon hills were easy to defend and also had the advantage of being able to signal adjacent cities like Jerusalem.  What an appropriate place for a prophet of God to be from, a city which spoke to other cities, not through a smoke signal or lantern but by the Word of God through their own Amos.  Read the text from Amos 8:4-7.

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! “When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, and the Sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!” The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!

A frequent theme in the Book of Amos was the exploitation of the poor. This was a time of relative prosperity in the nations of Israel and Judah.  The poor were evidently being taken advantage of by the rich.  What was being pointed out here was that even during a holiday, which is what was meant by “when the new moon is over,” and on the Sabbath day, the rich were plotting their future sleazy business deals.  At a time when God called them to take time away from work to reflect upon Him they were plotting how to cheat the poor by “dimish(ing) the ephah”  The ephah was the unit with which they measured grain.  They were also plotting other ways such as cheating on the scales and adding to the value of their money.  These people were the ultimate among unjust stewards.  Even though everything that they ultimately came from God, including the holidays, the Sabbath day, and all that they owned, they even used their worship time to plot how they might defraud the poor.  Their minds were not on God during their worship, but were instead focused upon their planning of how they were going to gain more wealth even at the cost of exploiting those less powerful than they.  Even if their hearts were on God during their worship they would still have been guilty of defrauding the poor.  These people were poor stewards of not only their physical resources but also their immaterial resources. This includes things like their intellect, influence, and power.

I am a high energy person and have frequently had some difficulty in focusing upon one certain thing at a time.  My behavior doesn’t end when the work week finishes and I head off to church on Sunday.  No, I am guilty of frequently bringing all of my worldly cares and concerns into church on Sunday.  I have learned that I need to begin to prepare my heart for worshiping God many hours before I actually arrive at church.  For me this means limiting my consumption of coffee that morning along with consciously focusing upon God to the exclusion of outside thoughts.  I have also discovered that praying before church tends to improve my concentration level for spiritual things before I come to church.  God knows what is going on in our hearts when we go to church.  Part of being a good steward of our time, talents, and treasures involves the stewardship of our mind. 

Often we feel burned out on Sunday morning.  Sometimes when we show up at church on Sunday we have given all we have to our employer during the week and we really need that time to rest, just as God designed that day.  But what about the rest of the week, do the pressures of life wear us down so much that we never get around to doing much to build God’s kingdom?  Have you ever felt like you really needed to do some certain thing for God, but you just never got around to doing it?

When we consider the stewardship of our mind, meaning the responsible planning and management of our mental resources, we need to consider a common fallacy that has come upon the people of America.  The fallacy is that we can compartmentalize one activity in a part of our life while thinking that it doesn’t affect the other areas.  Back when I was teaching business classes inside the walls at several state prisons I used to use an illustration to explain this delusion.  I drew on the board a circle and divided it into compartments each holding a little square. The geniuses in the class soon recognized that my crude drawing was a waffle.  Next I started writing in each compartment of the waffle common activities with which the men may be engaged during any given week.  I wrote things like “Go to class,” “Go to lunch in the mess hall,” “Read my Bible,” and “Go to church on Sunday,” all things that the men did while in prison.  Then I wrote some other phrases, like “Look at a dirty magazine,” and “Gossip about a classmate.”  Do we honestly believe that we can put sin into a little compartment and not have it affect the other activities in our life?  Compartmentalization is nothing new, we can see that this was going on during the time of Amos the prophet. 

Now let’s read the Gospel lesson from Luke 16. 

Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property.  He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one.  To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.  Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.  I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.  If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?  If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  Luke 16:1-13

This parable has been puzzling to many, but the interpretation is really quite simple.  Had we read the next two verses we would have found that the Pharisees to whom this was addressed understood the parable quite well.

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.

He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight. (Luke 16:14-15)

The rich man in the story is God who is the provider of all things, both to believers and also non-believers.  The unjust steward is a lazy but creative, non-believer who used his God-given creativity to achieve his worldly self-satisfying purposes.  The children of light represent all believers.  The big idea is quite simple. God calls believers to use everything that he has given us to build up His kingdom.  If non-believers are creative for worldly purposes then believers are called to a higher standard of stewardship for the kingdom of heaven.

I remember an occasion while teaching in the prison during which I caught a student cheating on an exam.  He had completed the exam using a pencil.  When I handed back the paper the following week showing the errors, he came to me after class and said that I had made a mistake.  He said that I had marked several answers wrong when really he had entered the correct choice on the multiple choice questions.  I could see that he had neatly erased his answer and circled the correct one.  He showed great ingenuity in his cheating.  I didn’t think that anyone would try this again but just to be sure the next time I gave an exam I ran copies of all of the exams.  Sure enough the same student approached me with the same complaint.  Imagine his surprise when I pulled out the copy of his original exam and compared it to the one that he had just handed back to me!  Some people are creative for worldly, sinful purposes.  In contrast imagine God’s joy when we use the talents that He gave us for the greatness of His Kingdom. 

God calls us to use the ingenuity that He granted to us in the same measure that was given to us.  He also calls us to use our talents to further His kingdom.  The business people mentioned in the Book of Amos evidently believed they could compartmentalize their thinking and succeed in using their creativity to steal from the poor.  God condemned them not only for their actions but also for their thoughts.  These “unjust stewards” were creative in the use of their God-given resources but used their creativity to steal from the poor rather than in doing what God commanded them by helping those less fortunate. This NT parable gives an example to challenge how we approach our own stewardship of the resources God has given to us. If ungodly people are motivated to use their resources for their own selfish benefit, how much more should Christ followers use their resources (material and immaterial) for higher purposes and God’s glory?

Examine some insights that I put together as well as insights mu business students shared when we talked about this particular parable. 

  • The manager was willing to go to great, very creative and insightful lengths to secure his position in some future job or living situation. As spiritual people are we willing to go to these great lengths to grow the kingdom of God?
  • As believers in Christ we must be aware of the struggle between God and money, we can’t worship two gods, only the True God. Money can become our god, and compromise our way of life.
  • As Americans we struggle with compartmentalized thinking. We may practice the things of God on Sunday but not give them much thought the rest of the week. How many of us read some devotional materials this morning? We put the things in God in several compartments but they don’t “flavor” or run over into the others like work, school, driving to work, working out, relating to our family members, and how we spend our free time and money.
  • Often times when we look at a church website we will find something of grade-school quality, when unbeknown to us we have a half-dozen web developers that attend our church and would never let something like this get posted on the web while at their workplace.
  • We should not be surprised to find out that our boss was a Christian, this should already be evident to us. If we ran into him at a church event we should not be surprised. The same should be true in reverse about us, do others KNOW that we are a Christian?
  • We should be willing to go to great lengths to grow the kingdom of God using whatever worldly resources are available.
  • We should evaluate how compartmentalized our lives are, and where do we fall on a scale of worshiping God vs. money? The worship of money is very subtle, so asking this so directly is not helpful because we defend ourselves and say, “of course we don’t do that.”
  • These changes come about through God, we must pray and ask Him to deliver us from our false thinking. We are new creations in Christ, and old things have passed away. Any empowerment that we have towards true change will only come from God.
  • Jesus gave us two metaphors – salt and light, that teach us that Christianity is designed not to just be a minor part of the society, but the defining part. Salt permeates! It flavors! It arrests corruption! Similarly, Christianity should influence everything it touches and arrest the decay of a society that is tending toward corruption.

In closing let me tell a story about a special person in my life.  After I moved to Indiana I met a man that worked in the cafeteria at the local college.  He was a gently and unassuming kind of man and he had a certain unusual look about him.  I struck up a conversation with him one day and over a period of years built a relationship with him. Dean had a learning disorder but continued to be a very diligent employee at the college and is one of the longest serving members of the school.  As I got to know Dean I realized many valuable lessons.  Dean was man that although wasn’t given very many talents or treasures used everything that he had to serve God.  He worked hard in the cafeteria and was a friend to many students.  He volunteered to film every basketball game and served the team in other ways.  He worked at his church on Wednesday night and Sunday morning in the children’s ministry.  Dean began volunteering for the local jail ministry and used his excellent singing voice to praise God to the men in the county jail.  This requires his attendance at an early morning meeting on both Saturday and Sunday.   On Sunday he goes to the local retirement community to sing at their afternoon church service.   Dean also offers his house for a very nominal rent for students to stay.  These are just the things about which I am aware, the list goes on.

One day we were at an evening church service and a lady gave a moving testimony about some difficulties she was having in her life.  All of us sat there listening with what we thought was deep compassion but Dean got up and walked out.  Everyone wondered why he would interrupt the focus at that critical time by leaving.  He came back a minute later and walked up to the woman and handed her a couple of tissues with which to dry her tears.  That says it all about Dean. Dean uses his time, talent, and treasure in serving God.  If anyone in the community tried even half as hard as Dean they could change the world.  I tell my wife that, “It doesn’t really matter because when we get to heaven we will all be working for Dean anyway.” 

Bottom Line: Questions for Reflection

1. The second reading today was from 2 Timothy 2:1-8.  Though we did not discuss this in today’s lesson reflect upon this section of the text which coincidentally is one of my theme verse for this series. 

For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all.

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Considering these verses together, since Jesus is our only mediator and God instructs us to approach Him boldly, who should we pray to when we find ourselves in a time of need?

2. God has provided our time, talents, and treasures. With your answer to the first question in mind, pray that Jesus would show you what He would have you do for His Kingdom as a steward of those three areas.  After you pray record your thoughts in your journal.  What are some things towards which God may be calling you to action?  Here are some thought starters:

Time: Where are you spending your time each day?  What are the largest time wasters in your life?

Talents:  What talents has God given you? 

Treasures:  Where are you spending your money or using the things you have or inherited? 

For Further Study:

If you are interested in better understanding your talents you can complete an online spiritual gifts test at: http://tinyurl.com/spiritualgifts

Investigate how God is using very creative people to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Internet.  A group of brilliant people have formed an organization called Global Media Outreach which uses a series of over a hundred web pages along with pay per click ad campaigns to reach people with the Gospel.  Millions have been reached in only a few years.  Read about it online at: http://www.globalmediaoutreach.com/

Readings for the Week  

Source: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092213.cfm

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 135

Reading 1 AM 8:4-7

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy

and destroy the poor of the land!

“When will the new moon be over,” you ask,

“that we may sell our grain,

and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?

We will diminish the ephah,

add to the shekel,

and fix our scales for cheating!

We will buy the lowly for silver,

and the poor for a pair of sandals;

even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”

The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:

Never will I forget a thing they have done!

Responsorial Psalm PS 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8

Reading 2 1 TM 2:1-8

Beloved:

First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,

petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,

for kings and for all in authority,

that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life

in all devotion and dignity.

This is good and pleasing to God our savior,

who wills everyone to be saved

and to come to knowledge of the truth.

For there is one God.

There is also one mediator between God and men,

the man Christ Jesus,

who gave himself as ransom for all.

This was the testimony at the proper time.

For this I was appointed preacher and apostle

— I am speaking the truth, I am not lying —,

teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray,

lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.

Gospel LK 16:1-13

Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property.  He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one.  To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.  Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.  I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.  If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?  If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Or LK 16:10-13

Jesus said to his disciples:

“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters

is also trustworthy in great ones;

and the person who is dishonest in very small matters

is also dishonest in great ones.

If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,

who will trust you with true wealth?

If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,

who will give you what is yours?

No servant can serve two masters.

He will either hate one and love the other,

or be devoted to one and despise the other.

You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

About the Author:
Jim Hill
Author: Jim Hill
Jim Hill lives in Winona Lake, Indiana and is married to Dr. Christy Hill. He is employed in the software industry for a firm that develops and sells document scanning and forms processing software. His wife Christy is a professor at Grace Theological Seminary. Jim has earned a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Grace Theological Seminary, a Master's of Business Administration from the University of Detroit - Mercy, and a Bachelor's of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Western Michigan University. He was born in a loving Catholic family and faithfully attended the Church for the first 35 years of his life. His desire is for Christians to study the Bible and this is why he writes the Sunday Mass Study Notes each week.


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