What Is He Saying?

Today’s reading from Luke was and remains thoroughly shocking to most “conventional” understandings of morality or of Jesus. Here, Jesus praises a cheater. He tells his disciples to use “dishonest mammon” as a means to be welcomed into eternal homes. And he says it’s impossible to serve both God and mammon at the same time. Maybe the last of these three isn’t so shocking. But the first two?
shrewd_manager[1]Do not attempt to blunt or explain away the shocking elements. They simply are shocking. They seem entirely out of character with most pictures of “gentle, benign Jesus.” This is “crazy, weird, dangerous” Jesus. Using a dishonest manager as a positive example? There was no account of virtue in the ancient world that could make sense of what Jesus is doing here. It was just shocking.
On purpose.
To shock people into just how radically new and different the way the kingdom of God and disciples in that kingdom are.
It is while his disciples, others who heard him, and perhaps we ourselves are still reeling in shock from what Jesus has just said that he introduces something we think we might understand. Maybe. “Whoever is faithful with little is faithful also with much.”
But given what Jesus has just done with our “conventional” ideas of morality and money, what in the world does “faithful will little” mean? Faithful to whom? Faithful in what way? Whatever it is, it’s not about playing by anything like the usual rules.
Maybe in verse 13, we see a glimmer of an answer. “You cannot serve God and wealth.” So maybe the faithfulness being commended is faithfulness to God?
Which begs the question: How is the dishonest manager faithful to God? He seems to be faithful only to himself.
Perhaps so. Perhaps he is only out to avoid having to do hard physical labor while still having a roof over his head at night.
However, the point of this gospel is not really about honesty or how to handle another’s property. This gospel pivots around something much more serious: our ultimate future. This is ours to squander by the choices we make every day. This gospel is about the final judgment and the fullness of life.

What Should We Do?

gaudeteThe Church’s Advent prayer pauses on this mid-season Sunday to rejoice: to anticipate the joy of Christmas and, as St. Paul reminds, to “rejoice always” and to “give thanks to God in all circumstances.” That’s scriptural language for having an “attitude of gratitude.” It’s important for us, especially in our troubles, to remember the good days and to treasure memories of past joy and peace even if those gifts seem not at hand today.
“Brothers and sisters: rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice,” St. Paul commands in the Second Reading. The word for rejoice in Latin is gaudete, so quite naturally this Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday.
Why all this exultation? Are we finally getting a break from the somberness of Advent?
Yes, but there is more to it than that. Remember that Advent is like a retreat that the worldwide Church is making. In this upcoming third week we will consider our lives in the context of the great beauty God has put in us and around us. Can you think this way?
One line in the First Reading puts it in dramatic terms. Zephaniah says that the Lord “will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.”
Because of you! Have you ever in your life thought that God’s might be singing because of you? Have you ever let your image of God expand that far? Have you ever let him, in the most profound sense of the word, be one who sings you into existence?
God’s gladness sings out joyfully at every instant, and his song is the earth, the galaxies, the people and plants and chemicals and soaring hawks and encircling planets, droplets of dew and heavy black holes, youthful beauties, ancient wisdoms, and everything else that exists.
We are God’s song!