Amos 8:4 – 7
This Sunday, we will hear from the Book of the Prophet Amos. As usual, it prepares us for the Gospel. Let’s quickly review the who, what, when, where, why and to whom of this book. Let’s pull out our Biblical Timeline; let me know who needs one. Amos came from Tekoa in the southern kingdom of Juda, but prophesied in the northern kingdom, apparently around the temple of Bethel. The first verse of the book tells us the name of the prophet – Amos, his profession – a shepherd, where we came from – Tekoa, and when he prophesied – during the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam, king of Israel. In chapter 7:10 – 17, we hear more about him. He is not a professional prophet, but a shepherd who was called by God to prophesy against Israel for its infidelity to God and oppression of the poor by the predatory rich. It is this second concern that we hear addressed on Sunday. Israel and Judah were apparently enjoying prosperity during this time, but a great divide was developing between the powerful, wealthy few and the powerless – the many poor in the land.
Meanwhile, the Israelites were called to be faithful to the Ten Commandments. Let’s read Ex. 20: 8-11 and Num 28:1 – 15 before we turn to today’s first reading. And then, let’s begin with the first three verses of chapter 8; this will help us better understand the prophecy.
4 Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!
5 “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!
new moon… sabbath: As we saw, Numbers 28:11 – 15 prescribes that on the first day of each new moon a holocaust should be offered. As with the Sabbath, it was a day of rest. The word Sabbath probably comes from the Hebrew שבת which means “to cease working” or “to rest.” No work was permitted during these religious celebrations and the Israelites couldn’t wait for them to end so they could return to work, exploiting the poor.
Ephah: a standard of measure; a little more than a bushel. Law forbade Israelite merchants from making use of a dishonest ephah measure (Lv. 19:36; Dt. 2514-15).
6 We will buy the lowly man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”
the refuse of the wheat: probably the chaff that should not be included in the weight of the wheat.
7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!
The pride of Jacob: the sinful pride detested by God (Amos 6:8), in contrast to God himself, who is the true Pride of Jacob.
We see God call his people to care for one another; this is still a challenge for us today and our parish responds so generously through so many excellent organizations and initiatives.
Luke 16:1 – 13
This week, we continue to hear from Luke’s Gospel, picking up right where we left off last week with the story of the Prodigal Son. The parable of the dishonest steward has to be understood in the light of the Palestinian custom of agents acting on behalf of their masters and the usurious practices common to such agents. Like the tax collector of the day, the agent must not only show a profit for his master but also charge a commission from which he could live. Frequently, these commissions would be rather extravagant. The dishonesty of the steward consisted in the squandering of his master’s property (Luke 16:1) and not in any subsequent graft. The master commends the dishonest steward who has forgone his own usurious commission on the business transaction by having the debtors write new notes that reflected only the real amount owed the master (i.e., minus the steward’s profit). The dishonest steward acts in this way in order to ingratiate himself with the debtors because he knows he is being dismissed from his position (Lk. 16:3). The parable, then, teaches the prudent use of one’s material goods in light of an imminent crisis.
1 Then he also said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property.
2 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.’
3 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.
4 I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’
5 He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
6 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.’
One hundred measures: literally, “one hundred baths.” A bath is a Hebrew unit of liquid measurement equivalent to eight or nine gallons, hence some 800 – 900 gallons.
7 Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’
One hundred kors: a kor is a Hebrew unit of dry measure for grain or wheat equivalent to ten or twelve bushels; the debtor owed 1,000 – 1,200 bushels, the yield of approximately 100 acres of land.
8 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.
(8b-13) Several originally independent sayings of Jesus are gathered here by Luke to form the concluding application of the parable of the dishonest steward.
The first conclusion recommends the prudent use of one’s wealth (in the light of the coming of the end of the age) after the manner of the children of this world, represented in the parable by the dishonest steward.
9 I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Dishonest wealth: literally, “mammon of iniquity.” Mammon may be the Greek transliteration of a Hebrew or Aramaic word that is usually explained as meaning “that in which one trusts,” or the Greek version of the Syrian god, Μαμμωνα, the god of riches. The characterization of this wealth as dishonest expresses a tendency of wealth to lead one to dishonesty. This very difficult verse is probably best understood in this way: use prudently the wealth that you have in order to ensure your status in the final age. Be willing to give up what you need in this world in order to be welcomed into the next.
Eternal dwellings: or, “eternal tents,” i.e., heaven.
10 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.
11 If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?
12 If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?
person who is trustworthy… you are not trustworthy: The second conclusion recommends constant fidelity to those in positions of responsibility.
13 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 God and mammon.”
You cannot serve God and mammon: The third conclusion is a general statement about the incompatibility of serving God and being a slave to riches. To be dependent upon wealth is opposed to the teachings of Jesus who counseled complete dependence on the Father as one of the characteristics of the Christian disciple (Lk. 12:22-39). God and mammon: see the note on Luke 16:9. Mammon is used here as if it were itself a god. Compare Mt. 6:24.
1 Timothy 2:1 – 8
We hear again a section from the letter of Paul to Timothy. This letter, like the letters to Titus and Philemon, are unusual in that they are addressed to individuals rather than communities. This letter was written to Timothy, the bishop of Ephesus, a native of Lystra (cf. Acts 16:1ff), probably after Paul’s first house arrest in Rome. The section we will hear on Sunday is a call to prayer. As you may notice from your footnotes, this marked insistence that the liturgical prayer of the community concern itself with the needs of all, whether Christian or not, and especially of those in authority, may imply that a disposition existed at Ephesus to refuse prayer for pagans. In actuality, such prayer aids the community to achieve peaceful relationships with non-Christians (1 Tim 2:2) and contributes to salvation, since it derives its value from the presence within the community of Christ, who is the one and only savior of all (1 Tim 2:3-6). The vital apostolic mission to the Gentiles (1 Tim 2:7) reflects Christ’s purpose of universal salvation. 1 Tim 2:5 contains what may well have been a very primitive creed. Some interpreters have called it a Christian version of the Jewish shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone . . .” (Dt. 6:4-5). The assertion in 1 Tim. 2:7, “I am speaking the truth, I am not lying,” reminds one of similar affirmations in Romans 9:1; 2 Cor. 11:31; and Gal. 1:20.
1 First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
2 for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.
3 This is good and pleasing to God our savior,
4 who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony at the proper time.
The testimony: to make sense of this overly concise phrase, many manuscripts supply “to which” (or “to whom”); two others add “was given.” The translation has supplied “this was.”
7 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.
8 It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.
men should pray: The prayer of the community should be unmarred by internal dissension (1 Tim 2:8); cf. Matthew 5:21-26; 6:14; Mark 11:25.
Both our first reading and gospel call us to love of God – demonstrated by our care for our fellow man – rather than just taking care of ourselves. It was a challenge for the ancient Israelites as well as the Jews of Jesus time and it continues to be a challenge for us today. We like to be in control of our destiny and are encouraged to ensure that we are financially secure. There is, however, a big difference between being fiscally responsible and being greedy. We do well to listen to the message because, as we hear over and over again in the gospels, we will be judged according to our care for the poor, not how well we took care of ourselves. And, fortunately for us – as we hear in this Sunday’s gospel – God is always ready to forgive us. Remember, all parables are about God. To the question we hear posed in this Sunday’s parable, “How much do you owe my master,” we – recognizing that the master is, in fact, God – the answer is, quite simply, “Everything.” We are all indebted to God and can never repay but he, in his mercy, forgives us and welcomes us into his heavenly home.