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Our readings for today, strike a harsh tone and may leave us wondering what we can take away from them.  In the first reading the prophet Amos’ warning is directed at those who would treat the poor, poorly.  The poor are being treated as chattel to be sold off for something as small as a pair of sandals.  To address this issue Amos delivers this message from God. He says, “The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done” (8: 7).

This reading seems clear enough, treat the poor poorly and God will not be pleased, but the Gospel, seems to be a little less clear. In the parable of the unjust steward, the steward was reported to his master for squandering his property.  Upon hearing this his master calls him in to fire him, but does not immediately dismiss him from his position.  With that time the steward goes to those in debt to his master and cuts deals with them to reduce their debt, hoping that this action will win him friends and favor when he is removed from his job and in need himself.

The twist comes when the master learns of his behavior.  He does not reprimand him, instead he commends him.  Why?  Is he rewarding his conniving and dishonesty?  If we think of this passage as a parable that Jesus uses to teach us about the nature of God, then we need to consider all of the players and how God views them.  Those to whom the steward is going to cut deals, have not paid their debts because they cannot.  They are of lesser means.  The steward treats them justly and by reducing their debt creates a merciful treatment for them and helps them fulfill their debts.  What delights the master is that these who are “lowly” have been lifted up.

Care for the poor is a constitutive part of Catholic social teaching (CST).  CST flows from scripture, whose intent is captured in today’s psalm refrain; “Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.”  Care for the poor is one of the Hallmark’s of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus reached out to those on the margins of his society to affirm their dignity and show God’s love for them.

This steward, without knowing it, participates with God’s plan and treats those who are in need with dignity and justice.  He lives into what Jesus tells us in Matthew’s twenty-fifth chapter is a requirement for entry to heaven.  He says we are required to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty and visit the imprisoned.  Those in judgment ask, “When did we see you hungry . . . or thirsty . . . or naked . . . or in prison? (vs. 37-9)  Jesus’ reply is “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (vs.40).

Today’s Gospel challenges us to examine how we live our lives.  Jesus tells us, “No servant can serve two masters. . . You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Lk. 16: 13).  So we can ask ourselves, Where are our priorities with our mammon?  Do we use it to care for the less fortunate?  Do we look for the face of Jesus in the poor who stand at the traffic lights throughout our city and need lifting up?

-Chris McCullough

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