TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
"...that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior..." -1 Tm 2:2-3
This Sunday no doubt many pastors will preach about how we cannot serve both God and mammon (mammon being the personification of wealth and greed). This is, after all, Jesus' message at the end of our gospel reading today. Today's gospel from Luke chapter 16 tells the story of the dishonest and unfaithful steward who squanders away his master's property. When he is called out by his master and is afraid he might lose his position, he looks after his own neck by falsely reducing the amount owed by his master's debtors in an attempt to buy their friendship.
Our first reading from Amos speaks of those who "trample the needy" and "destroy the poor." They rig their scales to help them cheat. They sell the refuse of the wheat. They devalue currency. They desire to do commerce on the Sabbath. Amos tells us the Lord will never forget a thing these disciples of mammon have done.
And in the middle of these two rather harsh readings, we have this prayer of St. Paul. He prays "that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity." He says such a life is pleasing to God. And he prays for this life not just for the meek and poor of the realm. He also prays "for everyone," even (and especially) "for kings and for all in authority." Are not those with worldly authority the very ones most tempted to serve mammon?
Our first and third readings this Sunday warn us of a sickness. Our second reading offers the inoculation.
We should strive to lead a quiet and tranquil life, in all devotion and dignity. This does not mean we should not have any ambition. This does not mean we should not strive for greatness. Indeed, Christ sets the bar even higher. He does not tell us to be great, he tells us to "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). So we should strive for perfection. What St. Paul reminds us of today is that there are measures of greatness other than material wealth.
Sometimes our hard work and achievements are rewarded in this life with material wealth. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, excessive wealth does come with dangers. The rich man is tempted to make wealth his god (to serve mammon) in ways that the man of more modest means is not. This is why Jesus warns that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven" (Mt 19:24, Mk 10:25).
The peace and joy to be found by living a holy life are not dependent upon income level. The tranquility and dignity St. Paul speaks of are available to prince and pauper alike (or we might say the wealthy CEO or the starving college student). The trick to leading this sort of life is to realize that while material goods my be nice (we do call them "goods," after all) they are not the ultimate good: that there is a yet higher good, which is God, the source of all that is good.
When we realize this, then we can enjoy the material goods we are blessed with on this earth as they were meant to be enjoyed. We enjoy them as blessings from the Ultimate Good, and appreciate them in a way that draws us closer to the Ultimate Good. We realize that these lesser goods may bring us temporary joy, but never lasting joy. They always leave us wanting something else, something more, something better. This is why serving mammon is so destructive. Greed is a bottomless pit. We can throw all of ourselves into it, and it will never be filled.
St. Augustine prayed, "Our hearts are restless, O God, until they rest in Thee." He recognized, with St. Paul, that only God can completely satisfy us. Living a life of devotion to God is the only way for us to achieve the "quiet and tranquil life" that St. Paul speaks of. For only in devotion to God will our hearts be truly at rest.
This tranquil life is open to all, regardless of the size of your paycheck or your chosen profession. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council said in their Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, "Let Christians follow the example of Christ who worked as a craftsman; let them be proud of the opportunity to carry out their earthly activity in such a way as to integrate human, domestic, professional, scientific and technical enterprises with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are ordered to the glory of God" (GS 43).
The Council Fathers speak of the Church casting "the reflected light of divine life over all the earth... [which] elevates the dignity of the human person, in the way it... endows people's daily activity with a deeper sense and meaning" (GS 40). Such a life of devotion and dignity can "make the human family and its history still more human," for, "to follow Christ the perfect human is to become more human oneself" (GS 41).
Let us all pray today with St. Paul, that we may lead quiet lives of peace and tranquility, full of devotion to God and the dignity that is only fully realized in Jesus Christ, His only Son.