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Make friends with the poor

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland


Sept. 22, 2013
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 8:4-7
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13 or 16:10-13

For many of us, the possessions our parents considered luxuries have become necessities. Easy credit has made spending easy. Economic concerns did not loom large for many until the recession. Not having access to quick cash through credit, individuals had to examine their priorities and plan for their future more carefully. This is the context for understanding today’s Gospel.

The manager of the rich man’s estate was probably reaping profits for himself above and beyond his wages. Those who worked the land would have been forced to give a portion of their crops to the landowner. It was common for the landowner to extend credit and charge interest even though it was against the Mosaic Law. The manager could assess a commission fee for collecting the debt for the landowner.

Scripture scholars tell us it was not an unusual practice for a manager to charge extravagant interest and then pocket the difference or to add a “service charge” for himself. Besides that, the manager would often “borrow” estate money to make side investments for himself. The manager in the parable obviously made a poor investment and, in need of quick cash, “dipped into the till” to cover his losses. Inevitably, the day came when he would realize he was in too deep.

The manager was clever, though. He knew he needed support from those who owed his master. We don’t know the details. Perhaps he only canceled interest owed himself rather than what was owed his master. Maybe he reduced the amount they owed his master. Even if we find the morality questionable, we can recognize the manager’s ingenuity. Jesus uses the story to help us recognize the need for creativity when dealing with crisis. But he tells us still more, “make friends for yourselves through your use of worldly goods.”

Who should our friends be? The first reading offers the answer. The prophet was speaking at a time of economic prosperity — a time when there were the very wealthy and the very poor. We are counseled to avoid taking advantage of the needy. The Gospel takes these words — spoken eight centuries before — another step and leads us to the realization that when we use our resources to “make friends with the poor,” we live the Gospel by feeding the hungry.

Many people today cannot hear the Gospel because of their immediate needs. Those who do not have bread for their kitchen table are not ready to learn about the Bread of Christ. Those who cannot clothe their children cannot hear about the warmth of Jesus’ love. As we reach out to the poor, we express our friendship with the Lord. At such times, we use our worldly goods to make friends with the Lord himself who calls us to intimacy.

At this Eucharist, we are challenged to be the community we celebrate. Unbelievers who hear the words of today’s liturgy might well challenge us to “put our worldly goods where our mouth is.”





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