Friday, September 16, 2022

Fr. Augustine Inwang, MSP - Homily for The Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C - September 18, 2022

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year (C) September 18, 2022

Readings: Amos 8:4-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-8; Lk 16:1-13.

The Poor You Help May Get You into Heaven

1.​The phrase, ‘What would Jesus do?’ makes us think and feel like Jesus in every respect, especially in dealing with the poor. It focuses our minds on how Jesus and his followers view social issues, such as helping the poor, inequality, and charitable work. Some Catholic Theologians used the term Liberation Theology to grapple with these issues. In 1971 Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Latin American priest wrote a book titled A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation. The basic premise of this theology explains that textual and oral sources reveal God’s love of the poor and outcast. These claims refer to the stories of Jesus’s association with the poor, oppressed, undesirable, and prostitutes. From 1950 to the 80s, priests, men, women, and children were humiliated, persecuted, and killed in Latin America. The Liberation Theologians opted for the poor and preached against the governments’ repressive regime. Many men and women were equally subjected to inhumane treatment because they saw the liberation theologians as their liberators, and they hung on their words. Women were raped and abused, and young men were humiliated, beaten, and persecuted. Monsenor Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, was assassinated while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980 in the hospital chapel of Divine Providence. He was called an advocate for justice and the voice for the poor during the turbulent times leading to the El Salvador civil war. Men like Gustavo Gutierrez of Peru, Leonardo Boff of Brazil, Juan Luis Segundo of Uruguay, Archbishop Helder C├ímara of Brazil, and Jon Sobrino of Spain, to mention but a few suffered ignominy because of their stand and were persecuted even by the Church. They popularized the phrase preferential option for the poor because they believed that God speaks mainly through the poor and that the Bible can be understood only as seen from the perspective of the poor.

 2.​Reflecting on today’s first reading from Prophet Amos, I cannot help but think of the South Americans who struggled and fought for freedom and justice. Unfortunately, our world today is not too different from what they went through, and the message of Amos is still very relevant to us. In many nations of the world, the poor are still hounded, traumatized, stigmatized, pushed around, put in cages, slammed into prisons, and out of sight. There seems to be a collective sense of helplessness among those of us who should speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. Today, Amos is addressing a situation like ours where giant corporations have bought the government, fossil fuel companies, the gun lobby, health insurance companies, and drug companies have taken control of the economy. The poor and the powerless are thrown under the bus. It is true that where greed and injustice prevail, revolt, anarchy, and protest are the result, and the brunt of it would be borne by the poor.

 3.​The message of Amos is as urgent today as it was in his days. “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals.” (8:4-7). Amos lived and preached at the time of material and financial prosperity in Israel. In his days, the rich amassed wealth, ruthlessly exploiting and cheating the poor. Fraud and deception were common in businesses and banking, and the lawyers worked for the vested interests of the wealthy rather than for justice. City life was corrupt, and religion was just a routine, a farce, a sham, and shameful. In their affluence, the children of Israel lost faith in God. The Sabbath and the new moon, which were supposed to be days of prayer and rest, were resented as an interruption in pursuing money. All caution, a sense of decency in business, and the care of ordinary people were thrown to the wind. It was like St. Paul warned the Philippians, “For many conducts themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. Their minds are occupied with earthly things.” (4:18-20).

4.​Amos’ warning was frank, direct, precise, and decisive: “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!” He called the people back to the wholeness of life and solidarity as one people under God. He reminded them of the futility of their fancy liturgies and solemn assemblies as long as they kept exploiting the poor. According to the psalmist, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Ps. 34:18). The mission of Christ is clear and straightforward: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Lk. 4:18-19). 

5.​The parable of Jesus in today’s Gospel does not, in any way, praise the craftiness and the attitude of the dishonestly honest steward for his sleaziness, laziness, and shady bookkeeping. Oh no! He commends, instead, his ingenuity and willingness to foresee and do whatever it took to ensure a prosperous future for himself when he still had time and ability to do so. “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” (v.8). He, in fact, did what Christ urged us to do: “Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (v.9). But our friend’s immediate concern was not eternal life, it was about how to make ends meet. We should be willing to do whatever it takes to attend eternal life.

6.​The Gospel reminds us that whatever we have is given to us for the benefit of all. Our wealth is a blessing from God only to the extent that we detach ourselves from them and are willing to share them with others. Our use of money must always be related to social justice and personal responsibility. Our worship of God must influence the way we live. This is the only way we will be entrusted with eternal life. Those we assist on earth will plead on our behalf on the day of judgment. “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40). This is the kind of world Amos and the Liberation Theologians dreamt of: the world where the resources are equitably shared and made available to all. According to Dom Halder Camara, “Without justice and love, peace will always be a great illusion.” It is in the recognition that God has blessed the world with abundance to be enjoyed by all that peace, justice, and equity will prevail. 

7.​The readings leave us with a few lessons to ponder to “Lead quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity,” according to St. Paul in the second reading. First of all, we must be men and women of prayer. “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be offered for everyone and that in every place, the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” Prayer must not only be the concern of women and children, but men should also be prayer warriors. Secondly, let us be serious about the things of God. That means Christians must be as eager and ingenious in their attempt to attain goodness as the man of the world is in his desire to make money and live a comfortable life. We spend money and time on what we treasure: hobbies, pets, and sports. We should do same with prayer and our pursuit of spiritual things. Third, let us use things and possessions to cement our relationship with others, especially the poor. They are the ones who will secure our life of peace with God. The rich should help the poor in this world, while the poor will plead for the rich in the next. And finally, since we cannot serve two masters, God, and money, we must choose one. If we choose God, know that there is no spare time for ourselves since all our time belongs to God. God is our most exclusive master. We either belong to him totally or not at all. May God give us the strength to choose him above and beyond all else. Ame

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP

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