Father Donald Senior, CP

Sept. 22: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Bread for the poor

Am 8:4-7; Ps 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8; 1 Tim 2:1-8; Lk 16:1-13

Recently, at a foundation board meeting, I had the privilege of hearing a presentation by David Beckmann, president of the remarkable organization Bread for the World. The mission of Bread for the World is to reduce and even to eliminate hunger in the United States and throughout the world. To accomplish this, the organization does research on the causes of and remedies for the hunger and malnutrition that affect millions throughout the world, including multitudes of infants and children, and advocates for governments to mobilize to eradicate such destructive and scandalous hunger. The role of government is crucial, he emphasized; for example, the efforts of our government’s programs to eradicate hunger are 27 times greater than the combined efforts of all private charitable organizations.

An important point Beckmann wanted to make is that, in fact, the goodwill efforts of government and private charitable organizations have managed to cut poverty and hunger rates nearly in half over the past 30 years. Despite all the violence and strife that engulfs our modern world, in fact much good is being done to give people a better life; every year, for example, more than 100 million people worldwide move from poverty to the middle class. With deep sincerity, Beckmann said, “we should be thanking God for this.” He’s right.

I thought of all this against the backdrop of our readings for this 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Working to assist the poor and relieve hunger is a prime command of our Scriptures — a constant refrain of the Old Testament and a concern at the heart of Jesus’ own mission.

We meet this concern head-on in the searing indictment of the prophet Amos, the first reading for today. Amos was a reluctant prophet; when called by God he protested that he was merely a shepherd and a trimmer of sycamore trees. Nevertheless, he heard God’s call and a fearless prophet he became. His words are a stern warning to those who “trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.” Amos mocks the wealthy who plot how to exploit the labor of those who harvest their fields, and “fix our scales for cheating.” In words that seem eerily modern, the prophet scorns those who view the poor as less than human, as slaves to be bought and sold: “We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals.” Ominously, Amos cites the voice of God: “Never will I forget a thing they have done!”

The response Psalm 113 picks up the same motif, “Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.”  The final verses describe God as one who “raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes.”

Jesus’ parable of the clever steward from Luke’s Gospel approaches the question from a different and unexpected angle. Luke’s Gospel highlights Jesus’ concern for the poor — a refrain found, for example, in his parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (next Sunday’s Gospel); or the rich man who hoards his abundant harvest, only to lose his life that same night, or the exhortation we heard on Sept. 1 about inviting the poor and homeless to the wedding feast. Here, in a twist, Jesus appreciates the clever maneuvering of the steward who is caught squandering his master’s property. To ensure a soft landing once he is dismissed from service, the steward lowers the amount owed his master by several debtors. Jesus commends the example of the steward for at least taking action and, in fact, relieving others from the burden of their debt — something that “the children of light” should take notice of. Jesus’ conclusion strikes at the heart of the matter: “No servant can serve two masters. … You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

The example of Bread for the World and of others who have worked hard and prudently to reduce poverty and hunger brings this Sunday’s readings alive. As “children of light,” we are asked not to throw away our resources but to use them in service of those in need.


  • scripture