Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
[Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 18:1-13]
As the world prepares for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, many continue to reflect upon her and her legacy. Among the many ways we hear people refer to Her Majesty is “Sovereign”: Our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth. I draw attention to this because the question of sovereignty – who rules? – lies at the heart of the Gospel passage this morning.
In fact, this question is inherent in all that Jesus did and taught. Time and again he preached about the kingdom of God and invited his hearers to submit in their hearts to God’s rule. On the Sermon on the Mount, he famously told us to “seek first the kingdom of God”, which is to say, as your first priority submit to God’s reign in all things, allow your lives in their entirety to be governed by His Word, be subject to His wisdom and love. The question posed to us by this teaching of Jesus, one with which we his disciples must constantly reckon, is this: “Who is my true Sovereign – God, or something else?”
With the parable we have today from St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus takes this general question and gets very specific as he addresses one such “something else”: wealth, or mammon. The precise question before us, then, is this: “Who is my Sovereign – God or money?” Our Lord is clear – we cannot serve both.
Money is a despotic ruler. By surrender to it, we identify our human worth in fiscal terms, which draws us into the spiral of seeking always more. Bowing to wealth enslaves us in self-reference, by which we see the other not as neighbour but competitor. The sovereign rule of money is attended by the pomp of empty show, and in consequence the lives of its subjects are evacuated of any substantive meaning and purpose.
God’s sovereignty is the opposite. It delights in our freedom, not servitude. Its realm is truth, within which we are truly free, liberated from slavery to the self so as to serve both God and neighbour. It is within this context – the rule of God in our lives – that Jesus situates the proper use of money.
He does so by means of today’s parable, in which, ironically, he holds up a dishonest manager as an example for his disciples to follow. That seems strange, to say the least. The manager, when he learns that his stewardship of his master’s wealth must be accounted for, actually cheats his boss out of what is rightfully his in order to make a future for himself. How can that be an example for a Christian to follow? Here we need to notice that this man is praised by the master not for his dishonesty but his prudence. The point being made by Jesus is this: if the manager, when asked to give an account of his stewardship, prudently made use of money to secure his earthly future, all the more must his disciples, who will be called to account by God, make prudent use of their resources in view of their eternal future.
Jesus then goes on in the parable to explain that, concretely, the exercise of such prudence means being trustworthy stewards of what God has given us. As an example, I remember thanking a donor, who had given a substantial gift to one of our local charities. He simply shrugged his shoulders, and said, “It’s not my money; it’s God’s money.” That is trustworthy stewardship, an instance of someone being “prudent” in the evangelical sense by using wealth in such a way as to serve God’s purposes and grow in his own surrender to the sovereignty of the Lord.
Today we are launching this year’s Archdiocesan Together We Serve fall campaign. Now, I must say, having a financial campaign begin on the day Our Lord teaches about money is either divine providence or very clever strategy by my office staff! After all, who among us would be inclined to argue with Jesus about how we should use our money? All joking aside, this campaign does provide us with the opportunity to be prudent and wise managers of the wealth entrusted to us by investing it in the support of institutions that form part of our Catholic family. I offer my sincere thanks for your generosity.
Let’s conclude with a final brief reflection on that fundamental question posed by the teaching of Christ: “Who is sovereign – God or money, God or something else?” With the death of the Sovereign Queen Elizabeth, we see that the question of sovereignty is linked with that of succession. When the ruler dies, sovereignty passes to the one who has right of succession, in this case King Charles III. In our own hearts, there are many forces that vie for the right of succession, that is, seek to take the place of God as sovereign of our lives. At one moment it might be money; at another it could be reputation, or achievement, or some ideology, or simply personal wilfulness. Jesus leaves no doubt: we owe our allegiance to God alone, both now and always. In God’s realm there is no right of succession; His rule is forever. We must not allow into our hearts any pretenders to the throne.
In this Eucharist, we remember the surrender of Jesus himself to the sovereign rule of his Heavenly Father through his death on the Cross. As his disciples, may we, too, by the grace of this sacrament, yield in all things and at all times to the gentle and loving rule of God.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
September 18th, 2022