My name is Dives – or at least that’s the name people have given me over the years --- because notice I am not named in the parable that Jesus tells today – more about that later.
They call me Dives because it is simply the Latin word for RICH – and yes, I was that – filthy rich – without a care in the world ---- as long as we are only talking money.
You may remember hearing a story about my brother, Ashar, in the Gospel a few weeks ago. He was the one who built bigger barns to store up all his wealth. . . he could have shared it, but did not – let’s just say some things run in families. . .
They call him Ashar because it is the Hebrew word for “to be rich and wealthy” or simply, “to be flat out prosperous.”
We were obviously cut from the same mold: all my brothers and I -- were wealthy, prosperous, and stuck on ourselves – because we would never think of sharing any of our wealth with those less fortunate --- let them fend for themselves. . . and that is the thinking that landed me in a very unpleasant place after my life on earth – but let’s get back to Jesus’ parable. . .
You may not realize this, but in all the 30 or so stories or parables Jesus tells in the Gospel – only once does he call someone by name –
and that is Lazarus. Usually Jesus says things like, “ a rich man had a steward,” or “what man among you having a hundred sheep,” or “what woman having ten coins and losing one” or “when you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet.” -- Parables you have heard in recent weeks – and not one name used among them.
But Jesus calls this poor man lying at my door by name – Lazarus – perhaps just to indicate that learning a person’s name – is the first way to begin to break down the barriers that separate people. . . Lazarus --- which in Hebrew means “God has helped” -- a name I don’t use until after both of us are dead and gone –
and only then because I want Lazarus to do something for me – to be my servant – to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue.
Now when both of us were alive – I had no use for him, and therefore walked by him day after day – not even noticing him – and so certainly would have no need to know his name.
If only I could have been a bit more like this man Jesus in my life – but I certainly had no use for the values he was proclaiming: “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to let the oppressed go free.” He obviously did not know the poor, the captives, and the oppressed were part of the problem in our society –
if not the whole problem of our society: out of sight, out of mind is my philosophy. . . or I should say WAS my philosophy – if only I could go back and relive my life. . . things would be a bit different. . .
And that’s why I want Abraham, our father in faith, yes, I was a Jew – just not a very good one --- I want Abraham to let Lazarus go back to warn my brothers to put the poor, the captive, and the oppressed into their sight and into their minds – and to reach out to them in compassion.
But Abraham simply says, “they have Moses and the prophets – let them listen to them.”
If only I had listened. . .
For Moses, who we Jews thought wrote the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible, said in the book of Deuteronomy, “treat the poor with open hands, rather than with tight fists.” My fist could not have been more tight, holding on even to the very first denarius I had ever earned – it was framed and hanging in my office!
Or in Leviticus, Moses said, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your fields --- leave it for the poor and the foreigner.” I think my brother with the bigger barns needed to pay attention to that one, and maybe he would not have needed his bigger barns!
Or, again, in Deuteronomy, “there should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, God will richly bless you.” God did indeed bless me – but I kept it all to myself, failing to be a good steward:
one who realized everything I had was a gift from God – and I was called to be a responsible care-taker and dispenser of God’s property. Oh, if only I had listened and lived my life differently!
The prophets are the ones who really cut loose on the care and concern for the poor. . .
Like the Prophet Amos you have been hearing from – who told you last week that God is not happy with those who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.
And who continues this week – woe to you complacent [which means those who are marked by self-satisfaction and who are unconcerned about anyone or anything except maybe where the next banquet is to be held!] Woe to you complacent – you shall be the 1st to go into exile!
I guess it is safe to say among my brothers – I am the first to go into exile: into this netherworld where I am in torment. . .
It was all right there, laid out in our sacred texts – to watch out not only for yourself, but for those who were less fortunate than you are. If only I had listened. If only I could have thought of someone besides myself. If only I could do it all over again and be a good steward of all that I was blessed with – I would not be begging for that drop of water to cool my tongue!
So, I am Dives – the rich man dressed in purple garments and fine linen ---- and I guess the point I really want to make – is for you to pay attention to how you live --- learn from my mistakes. Live your life with gentleness, with graciousness, and with generosity.
Have concern for the poor, the captives, the oppressed – and don’t forget about the widow, the orphan, and foreigner. . .
And be sure to take to heart the words this Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel and repeats often with the hope that it will sink in:
Where your treasure is, there your heart shall be.
All that you possess will never set you free.
Seek the things that last – come and learn from me:
Where your treasure is your heart shall be.
The author, C.S. Lewis writes in his book, Mere Christianity,:
“Every faculty you have: your power of thinking or moving your limbs from moment to moment – is given to you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service – you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.”
Jesus talked a lot about stewardship. He used parables, such as the one he tells today, to teach deeper principles about discipleship --- and he reminds his followers that our hearts --- follow our treasure. . .
In Jesus time, the steward was the manager of a wealthy person’s household. The steward was not the owner of the assets: the house, the servants, the barns and the things they stored – but was to be a responsible care-taker and dispenser of the owner’s property: he was the one that kept things running.
So the steward, a good steward, was someone who had to be trustworthy, honest, loyal, hardworking, and respected and respectful. They needed to be able to view each thing - and especially each person – as a precious and vital resource of great potential for the owner.
The parable Jesus tells today is of a steward who failed miserably at being good at what he was called to do. This steward was reported to his master for SQUANDERING his property.
SQUANDER means to waste something – especially money or time – in a reckless and foolish manner. Synonyms include: misspend, misuse, throw away, dissipate, fritter away, and make poor use of ------------ not someone, I think, any of us ------would want handling our assets.
And so the master calls him on the carpet – and tells him he can no longer be his steward.
But then - -something happens. This steward becomes very cunning in making sure he has friends after his dismissal.
He becomes very creative in doctoring the invoices and cutting deals – and regains so much of the owners loans – that his master “commends him for acting prudently.” Meaning he praised him formally or officially for acting with or showing care and thought for the future --------- but it doesn’t mean he got his job back!
Whenever I hear this parable and think about it and pray about it --- I always wonder – why did the steward not just do the job he was entrusted with doing in the first place???
Why did he wait until he was called on the carpet before he started acting prudently – which he should have been doing all along??? Why was this man re-active, rather than pro-active – in being a responsible care-taker and dispenser of the owner’s property?
And then I can’t help but think the same thing about the Bishops in our Church. . .
No doubt we live in a very different, and very safer – church than we lived in and had 17 years ago before the Boston Globe first broke the story of the abuse of children and cover ups that had occurred for years. . .
We now have what is called the Dallas Charter – so called because it came out of the Bishops’ meeting in June of 2002, which met in Dallas that year. The Charter which gives the Church a comprehensive set of procedures to address sexual abuse of minors by Catholic Clergy – one of which is to simply cooperate with civil authorities when a suspected crime has been committed – what a novel idea!!!!!!
This, and the other procedures put in place – are signs of being a good steward – of being a responsible care-taker of the most important assets, our children, entrusted to the Church by God -------------- but why did it take getting caught in a cover up --- and getting called on the carpet for this to happen?
Those of us who do ministry in the Church with children– know that these days we just can’t show up and do something – we have to undergo a criminal background check, take Virtus training on creating and maintaining safe environments and boundaries, and keep current on our training. Since 2004 – I have done two live trainings, been through 4 versions of on-line training and have read 227 training bulletins. .
Yes, we are better stewards of our children these days – but why did we have to be re-active, rather than pro-active?
Many priests have been removed from ministry and have gone to prison for their misdeeds -----and rightly so!
But when is someone finally going to hold the Bishops accountable for moving abusive priests from parish to parish --- and covering up their actions?
Like the dishonest steward in the parable who lost the confidence of his master --- I think the church has certainly lost the confidence of those who strive to be faithful followers of Christ – and who have not had good role-models of stewardship – many in leadership positions have failed to be responsible care-takers of the souls that were entrusted to them by God: have failed to view each person, especially the most vulnerable – as a precious and vital resource of great potential for the glory of God and God’s kingdom.
BUT, just because we have not had good role-models in stewardshp doesn’t mean that we should become wasteful, reckless, or foolish in what God has entrusted to us – which truly is everything that we have and own.
As C.S. Lewis said: “every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs form moment to moment, is given you by God. And if you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service, you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.”
We need to be faithful stewards of all God has given us. We need to use each and every opportunity given to us as a gift by God --- to glorify God, to serve the common good, and to help build the Kingdom of God in our midst. . .
Crazy: Absolutely crazy. That’s what we should think about the 3 parables Jesus tells in Chapter 15 of St. Luke’s Gospel – the so called “LOST” chapter ---because it has the story of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son – also known as the Prodigal Son
– which we did NOT read about today and I won’t talk about – since we had the story back in Lent ----- but I still do like this picture of the Father racing toward his son – so I put it out as a reminder. . .
Anyway, three parables which challenge our very logical, human, way of thinking: because they are quirky and describe doing things that WE most likely would NOT do.
Who would do what the shepherd does or the woman with the lost coin does – they just don’t make too much sense to us. . . they are just crazy.
But that is the most fundamental point Jesus is trying to make: God’s love for us isn’t logical – it is just plain “crazy”: because it stretches the limits of our human thinking.
Because who really does understand unlimited and unconditional love? Who can really grasp the depths of God’s mercy?
God’s grace is absolutely amazing in that it goes completely beyond our ability to comprehend.
It transcends merely human concepts. Thank God! For if God were like us – we’d all be in trouble when it came to mercy, love, and forgiveness!
Let’s consider the parable of the lost sheep ---
So Jesus speaks of a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to search for ONE who is lost. Would a shepherd really do this?? Probably not! Perhaps if the lost sheep was close by he might venture over the fence or hedgerow to retrieve it.
But the average human shepherd would cut his losses and stay with the 99. Many of us might even consider it irresponsible to leave 99 to search for the one.
The point of the parable is that God’s love is extravagant, personal – and at times, a bit puzzling.
In the end, it would seem that God loves us for “no good reason.” God seems to love us even “more” when we stray -- for God’s focus intensifies on the one who strays.
To us this is not only crazy, it is dangerous, and most likely - reckless. But don’t try to figure it out. Don’t analyze it too much. Just be astonished, be amazed. Yes, this is crazy: for God’s great love for us is unexplainable. . .
For God rejoices when the lost is found.
Every wayward sheep that is homeward bound.
More than all the other sheep that stayed in town.
God rejoices when the lost is found!
A woman loses a drachma – it’s a small coin. Not worth that much really, perhaps one day’s wages for an agricultural worker of the time.
In modern terms – it’s less than $100. Not insignificant – but not really a huge amount either.
She sweeps diligently looking for it. So far, this all seems reasonable. . . I know I would look around for a lost $100 bill.
But then it gets crazy ---- the woman finds the coin – and rejoices to such an extent that she spends most, if not all of it – on a party celebrating the lost coin that has been found --- illogical --- crazy!
But that’s exactly the point. God doesn’t count the cost. God doesn’t try to figure out whether or not we are worth it – God doesn’t calculate the cost of loving us. . .
Some commentators try to explain the craziness away by suggesting that perhaps the coin had sentimental value as part of her dowry, or was part of a ceremonial head-dress of the day that contained 10 coins. . .
But, over analyzing and trying to explain or make sense of it ----- may well miss the point.
This woman is crazy because God is crazy. God’s love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t analyze it too much ---- just be astonished, be amazed.
Yes, this is crazy. That God loves us this much is unexplainable.
For God rejoices when the lost is found
Every wayward soul come to holy ground.
Like the silver drachma when it rolls around.
God rejoices when the lost is found!
Let’s face it – God loves differently than we do – and thank God this is so --- because if God were like us – we’d all be in trouble when it came to mercy, love and forgiveness.
BUT --- even though God loves differently than we do – God does expect us to do our best to love in the same way God loves --- God sets the standard – we don’t.
So yes, God’s love for us is extravagant – and ours for others must strive to be as extravagant.
God’s love of us is not reasonable or explainable – and our love for others must strive to be as unreasonable and illogical.
But don’t analyze it too much. Just be astonished, be amazed. Yes, this is crazy – and as follower of Christ, we are called to be just a bit off our rockers when it comes to our mercy, love, and forgiveness. . .
For God rejoices when the lost is found.
Every wayward soul come to holy ground.
Every humble sinner that is turned around.
God rejoices when the lost is found.
What’s in it for me?
I ask myself that question a lot. Maybe you do too. Oh, maybe not explicitly – or maybe not in these exact words. And I definitely don’t say them out loud in the presence of others.
But the question is there nonetheless: in the back of my mind, shaping and influencing my decisions: what’s in it for me?
I ask that question when a friend calls me and wants to go to dinner or out for the evening – when all I really want to do is go home and do nothing. . .
I ask that question when the Bishop or someone else from the Chancery calls me to be on another committee – do I really want to give up even more of my time to sit in meetings?
I ask that question when someone calls me to give a talk or a presentation somewhere – especially if it is out of town: do I really want to commit to the preparation I’ll have to do – and then the time in the car?
What’s in it for me?
Yes, that simple question seems to play a pretty significant role in many of the decisions I make.
And sometimes – that’s okay. After all, God probably doesn’t care too strongly whether or not I go out to dinner – even if a friend might be slightly disappointed by my lack of enthusiasm.
And I suppose there is nothing wrong with turning down a speaking engagement, if it really isn’t something that grabs my interest.
And none of us needs to take on every single bit of work that comes our way – especially if it means that it will stretch us too thin to the point of NOT being able to meet our other responsibilities. . .
But I use these examples simply to show that the decisions we make in life RARELY are the product of pure motives. . . The truth is – a little bit of “what’s in it for me?” or “What am I getting out of this?” or “How do I benefit?” is often lurking somewhere in our decision-making process – whether we are aware of it or not. And sometimes that’s okay. It really is. But, as you can imagine – sometimes it’s not. . .
“Rather when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”
So says Jesus in today’s Gospel. . . In a parable told in the house of a leading Pharisee – Jesus talks about the importance of NOT taking a seat of honor at a wedding banquet, but taking the lowest place instead.
Jesus then goes on to encourage his listeners to be humble--- and not to exalt themselves. He then caps off the story with the broad invitation we should give to the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind --- precisely because they can’t return the favor, can’t pay us back. This kind of giving is truly a selfless act – because there is NOTHING in it for the giver.
Or is there?
Jesus ends his story by saying: “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
In one sense, the story seems to be encouraging us to purify our motives – to do good things simply for the good of others. Jesus seems to be saying, “Don’t simply love someone because they can love you in return – or be generous with someone because they will then be obligated to be generous with you – or do a favor for someone so that they will have to do a favor for you at some other time: An I’ll scratch your back – you scratch mine type of thing. . .
NO – Jesus wants us to do good simply because it is the right thing to do ---not because there is anything in it for us.
But then what about the ending: about being “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous?” Can’t that taint our motives? Doesn’t that sort of imply that we should do good things ----- so that God owes us??
Not quite. . .
I think one of the greatest challenges of faith is believing that God owes us nothing. After all, most of our human interactions are almost the complete opposite – they are all about transactions – I am getting this so I owe you that. . .
But our relationship with God isn’t like that. We can’t earn God’s love – nor do we have to. God gives everything freely, purely, and unconditionally.
And that’s the key to this Gospel. . . when Jesus calls us to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind – he is simply asking us to do what he has already done and is continuing to do:
The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind – aren’t just OTHER people – they are you and me – God has already invited us to the feast. God has welcomed us in through our Baptisms and the life of this community. God feeds us and nourishes us at this sacred table. God has forgiven and healed us and consoled us time and time again. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: God has already won a great victory for us through the death and resurrection of his son – a victory which holds out the promise for each of us to be united with God for all eternity!!
And so God’s “repayment” to us is NOT because God owes us anything – but rather because God has already saved us --- saved us in this moment – in this life – and in the life to come. It’s NOT a repayment at all ---- IT’S A GIFT – the perfect gift. The victory has already been won. The wedding feast has begun – and we are sharing in that feast this very day!
And so God calls us to love others because God has first loved us. God asks us to forgive because God has already forgiven us. God wants us to shower others with kindness and mercy – because God does the same for us each and every day!
And the best way to say thank you to God – is to live our lives in gratitude and service.