Father Donald Senior, CP

Everything in one suitcase

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Sept. 18: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Am 8:4-7; 1 Tm 2:1-8; Lk 16:1-13

A famous short story by William O’Henry tells of a man who experienced great satisfaction and peace in being able to pack all of his possessions into a single suitcase. Most of us would have a hard time reaching that goal.

Whenever we move from one house to another or even from one room to another, we inevitably ask ourselves, “How did I accumulate so much stuff?” The readings for this Sunday invite us to think about material possessions and what they mean to us.

The first reading from Amos is blunt, typical of this fierce prophet who challenges those who exploit the poor. The abuses Amos cites in this brief passage are eerily modern. Examples of economic exploitation fill our news on a daily basis: greed that cheats the poor and vulnerable, snatching their land, polluting their water (Flint?), price gouging, cutting corners and selling sub-par food, government policies that favor the rich and crush the poor. The list is endless.

Amos’ powerful message calling for justice for the poor was certainly echoed by Jesus and is central to Catholic social teaching. Here is one clear lesson in this Sunday’s Scriptures: we need to examine our conscience and ask if in some way we are contributing to the plight of the poor. Or, conversely, are there opportunities available to me to help those in need?

The Gospel selection from Luke offers another facet of how we are to deal with our possessions. Jesus tells the parable of the clever steward who has been cheating on his master and now faces the prospect of being fired.

To ensure his future and, as he says, “be welcomed into the homes” of his clients, he decides to make a bargain with those who owe his master various debts. The one who owes 100 measures of olive oil is invited to reduce his debt to 50. The man who owes 100 kor of wheat (a “kor” was equivalent to about 6.3 bushels) should mark down the debt to 80, and so on.

Commentators suspect that what the steward is doing is simply removing his own commission that he would have received from the debts owed thus he earns the gratitude of these future associates and won’t risk being punished further by his master.

This parable tells us something about Jesus. Jesus is not a snob and here, as in other of his stories, he can savor the humor in the clever ploy of this steward. More to the point, Jesus uses this story to remind us to be thoughtful in the way we use our possessions.

Most of us have to be prudent about our finances, making sure we have enough to cover our children’s tuition, to make payments on our mortgage and to put something aside for retirement. But this parable of Jesus asks us a deeper question about material possessions.

Do we allow them to consume our thoughts and desires? Do we pay more attention to things than we do to people? Do we sometimes neglect our relationships with our family or friends in our drive to get ahead? Are we so absorbed with our cellphones and gadgets that we forget to converse with a friend across the table?

I have been struck by the testimony of those who have lost their homes and all their possessions in a storm or flood but survive. Thanks be to God, they often say, we have each other and that is what counts.

That, I think, is the point of Jesus’ parable. The crafty steward at least knows that he should think about his future and subordinate his concern about money (i.e., his commission) to ensuring that future. The same should be true for the “children of light,” Jesus urges us.

Our material possessions alone, as necessary and important as they may be, do not ensure a full life for us. That is to be found in God’s love for us, a love we are to extend to our family and those in need.


  • scripture