By Martin Jumbam
The Universal Church celebrates the 22nd day of September 2013 as the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C. In the entrance antiphon we pray: “I am the Saviour of all people, says the Lord. Whatever their troubles, I will answer their cry, and I will always be their Lord. Amen.”
Social justice, as recounted in the prophecy of Amos, in the first reading, is the theme of this day’s holy Mass. It is also a burning reality in the Church of our own day. The prophet makes a vigorous call for social justice and strongly condemns the wealthy and the privileged of his society, who have gained their position of authority through enslaving and cheating the poor. Religion loses its meaning if it is not rooted in social justice and morality. In the second reading, from Saint Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul gives us instructions on Christian worship, asking that we all pray for our civil and religious authorities so that they may govern us with the fear of God. In the Gospel, from Saint Luke, Jesus gives us the strange parable of the dishonest servant who, knowing that he is to be dismissed from his post, takes steps to ensure that after his dismissal he will not be without a job. Jesus is not praising the man’s dishonesty; rather, he praises his cleverness and commitment to his future, and wants us Christians too to approach our Christian life with a similar dedication and commitment. Let us pray for the grace to promote social justice in our Church and society as a whole. Amen.
First Reading: Amos 8:4-7
Listen to this, you who trample on the needy and try to suppress the poor people of the country, you who say, ‘When will New Moon be over so that we can sell our corn, and Sabbath, so that we can market our wheat? Then by lowering the bushel, raising the shekel, by swindling and tampering with the scales, we can buy up the poor for money, and the needy for a pair of sandals, and get a price even for the sweepings of the wheat.’ The Lord swears it by the pride of Jacob, ‘Never will I forget a single thing you have done.’
V/ The word of the Lord:
R/ Thanks be to God.
In today’s first reading, we are introduced to one of the great characters of the Old Testament, a layman called Amos, a farmer turned prophet. He lived in the middle of the 8th century before Christ and came from the small village of Tekoa in the country of Judah, about five miles southeast of Bethlehem. He was not a professional prophet and he stresses that it was through God’s direct intervention that he became a prophet. His prophetic ministry was a short but very intense one. He was obedient to the divine call that led him to take very courageous decisions in the face of much opposition, especially from the priestly classes. For Amos, Israel is nothing and God is everything. He makes it clear that he owes his allegiance to God and to God alone. Any man, be he king or priest, has no say over him as he carries God’s word to the world.
In the Israel of his day, economic circumstances were relatively favourable, though limited to particular social classes. The ordinary people’s lives were very miserable, as it is the case in Cameroon today. The poor often lived in abject poverty and were greatly repressed by the ruling priestly and princely classes. In spite of the material prosperity, there was generalized moral and religious degradation.
Amos openly attacked the rich for the lack of compassion they showed towards the poor. God sent him to the northern kingdom, Israel, which had reached the summit of material power and prosperity. The land was prospering, the cities were elegantly built, the palaces strongly defended and the rich and powerful lived in extreme luxury.
The poor, on the other hand, were afflicted, exploited and reduced to slavery. There was total absence of justice and pity in the land: the judges were corrupt and the innocents were brutalized. In the midst of all this luxury and misery, religion flourished. People thronged to the shrines at festival time to practice elaborate rituals. Amos regarded all those religious rituals as a mockery of God’s compassion because the perpetrators of social injustice sought to conceal their acts by hypocritical religious activities.
In the passage of our meditation, Amos describes the greed of traders and the rich, the exploitation of the poor, the luxury of the wealthy and the corruption of the judges. He warns that those who refuse to listen because they feel that they are comfortable will soon be afflicted.
How relevant is Amos’ message to us in Africa today? The issues he addresses are everywhere present in Africa today: corruption, injustice, the embezzlement of public funds, oppression of the poor by the rich and capital flight. In his Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa, Blessed John Paul II says, among other things, that “Africa’s economic problems are compounded by the dishonesty of corrupt government leaders who, in connivance with domestic or foreign private interests, divert national resources for their own profit and transfer public funds into private accounts in foreign banks. This is plain theft, whatever the legal camouflage may be” (EA, 113). The Holy Father was probably thinking of our country, Cameroon which has lifted the unenviable trophy of being the most corrupt country in the world two years in a row. Let us pray that God should raise from among us leaders who have the good of our people at heart. We make our supplication through Christ our Lord. Amen..
Second Reading: First Timothy 2:1-8
My advice is that, first of all, there should be prayers offered for everyone – petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving – and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet. To do this is right, and will please God our saviour; he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. For there is only one God and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all. He is the evidence of this, sent at the appointed time, and I have been named a herald and apostle of it and – I am telling the truth and no lie – a teacher of the faith and the truth to the pagans. In every place, then, I want the men to lift their hands up reverently in prayer, with no anger or argument.
V/ The word of the Lord
R/ Thanks be to God.
What I said last Sunday, and it’s perhaps worth repeating, is that three of Saint Paul’s letters are called “pastoral” because they are addressed to the shepherds and the pastors of the church and they are centered on the life and teaching of the Christian community. These are the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus. Both Timothy and Titus were Paul’s trusted companions. In these letters, Saint Paul gives them instruction and advice about the organization and governing of the communities he had entrusted to their care. Since these epistles stress the functions of pastors and shepherds of God’s flock, the Church uses them extensively to emphasize what pastoral ministry and pastoral ministers should aspire to. All three pastoral letters are thought to have been in Ephesus in Asia Minor towards the end of the first century.
Timothy, to whom this letter is addressed, was still a young man when Paul met and converted him to the faith (Acts 16: 1-3). He accompanied Paul on his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16:3; 19:22) and Paul sent him on many missions as his courier and delegate (Acts 19: 22; 1 Thes 3:2; 1 Cor 4: 17).
What inspired Saint Paul to write this first pastoral letter to Timothy? Corrupt teachers were trying to influence the Christian communities with false doctrines that contradicted the true Gospel that Paul and his disciples had been preaching and which had been the foundation for the faith of those communities. Timothy is given the mandate in the first lines to stay in Ephesus to insist that certain people stop teaching strange doctrines that are likely to raise doubts instead of furthering the designs of God (1: 3-4).
In the passage of our meditation, Saint Paul strongly urges Timothy to bring proper order into the Christian community. He advises him about the liturgical worship and asks the community to offer their prayers and thanksgiving for everyone, especially their rulers.
In a recent morning-prayer session, Pope Francis, reacting to Saint Paul’s exhortation to Timothy on behalf of those in authority, said, among other things, that Catholics should pray for their leaders. “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern… “A Christian who does not pray for those who govern”, continues the Holy Father, “is not a good Christian!” (Pope Francis, morning Mass in Domus Sanctae Marthae, September 16, 2013).
In their recent declaration on the upcoming dual elections in Cameroon, the Bishops of Cameroon reiterate the Holy Father’s call on all Christians to actively participate in politics. They urge us to vote into our local councils and parliament men and women who will have the common good of all at heart.
Let us therefore pray that peace may continue to reign in our land now and at all times. We make our supplication through Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever. Amen.
Gospel: Luke 16: 1-13.
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘There was a rich man and he had a steward who was denounced to him for being wasteful with his property. He called for the man and said, “What is this I hear about you? Draw me up an account of your stewardship because you are not to be my steward any longer.” Then the steward said to himself, “Now that my master is taking the stewardship from me, what am I to do? Dig? I an not strong enough. Go begging? I should be too ashamed. Ah, I know what I will do to make sure that when I am dismissed from office there will be some to welcome me into their homes.” Then he called his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, “How much do you owe my master?” “One hundred measures of oil” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take you bond; sit down straight away and write fifty.” To another he said, “And you, sir, how much do you owe?” “One hundred measures of wheat” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond and write eighty.” The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness. For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light. And so I tell you this: use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity. The man who can be trusted in little things can be trusted in great; the man who is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in great. If then you cannot be trusted with money, that tainted thing, who will trust you with genuine riches? And if you cannot be trusted with what is not yours, who will give you what is your very own? No servant can be a slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’
V/ The Gospel of the Lord.
R/ Praise to you Lord, Jesus Christ.
In this day’s Gospel, Jesus tells a strange parable that seems to support dishonesty. The unfaithful steward manages to avoid falling on hard times by taking a firm and immediate action to ensure his own future. He is about to be laid off for mismanaging his master’s estate. He takes steps to ensure that after he is sent away, someone will welcome him into his home. He is praised not for his dishonesty but for his resourcefulness in coping with an emergency situation at such great speed. He tries to draw maximum material advantage from his former position as a steward.
Christ is telling us here that if a dishonest man can use his master’s money to ensure that people will welcome him when he loses his job, how much more should we Christians use our money and resources to advance the course of social justice and charity? It would seem that the children of the world are more determined in their pursuit of their goal of making money and having a good time than we Christians are in our pursuit of the kingdom of God.
The Lord wants us too to put ourselves entirely into what can bring us sanctification even on earth. We should devote ourselves entirely into what is of interest to our Lord by following him more closely, using all the talents he has given us for his good and that of our neighbor. We have only one Lord, Christ Jesus, and we cannot serve him and money at the same time. As Saint Paul tells his assistant Timothy, “the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6: 10).
A good Christian does not devote one part of his life to God and the other to the business of this world. He must convert both into the service of God and neighbor by living the virtues of justice and charity. We must ensure that we direct our actions towards the promotion of the common good.
Today’s readings challenge us to take our Christian responsibilities seriously to build a world of justice and peace. God has given us time and possibilities and it is for us to make clever use of them. We should take courage and do the will of God at all times. We are the administrators of an estate that does not belong to us; it is God’s. Our term of office is temporary and short-lived. We should therefore pray for the grace to use God’s gifts, not only for our own personal good, but for the good of our neighbor as well. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.