Homily: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016

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Information about Homily: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016

Published on September 18, 2016

Author: Knipper

Source: slideshare.net

1. 18 September 2016 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Princeton, NJ On the surface it would seem that this evening’s Gospel sounds like Jesus is encouraging us to imitate one whose behavior appears to be shockingly wrong. So let’s dig into this a bit and see what Jesus was really doing. First it is important to note that this story is really a continuation of last week’s Gospel of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. So in order to really understand what Jesus was trying to do, you can’t gloss over the opening line of this entire discourse – you can’t miss who Jesus was speaking to and what prompted him to tell these stories. For we are told that: “the Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So let’s look at these two groups by keeping in mind that the Mediterranean culture was broken into the upper, middle and lower classes and was dominated by an honor/shame system. At that time only about 1% were in the upper class - which included only the very wealthy such as the high priests and those that owned most of the land. Then there was the middle class, again a very small group – and it was comprised of tradesmen, fishermen, carpenters (so Jesus was likely in this class) and it included educated people like the Pharisees and scribes – the ones we hear complaining about Jesus in this discourse. Pharisees were a political party, obsessed with protecting the purity codes found in Leviticus. They placed the letter of the law high above the spirit of the law. The job of the scribes was to study, transcribe and then in add their interpretations of the law, which in time were considered more important that the law itself. But the vast majority of the population belonged to the lower class - referred to as the 'poor'. This class included orphans, widows, and all the outcasts of society, including the tax collectors and sinners – the ones who came to listen to Jesus. The tax collectors were Jews who collected taxes from fellow Jews for the Roman Empire. They made their living by charging and extracting any extra amount they could and thus became well-to-do (not too dissimilar from the Steward in today’s story). They were considered traitors since their wealth came by way of collaborating with Roman authorities at the expense of their own people. Those called ‘sinners’, were in a special class unto themselves. These were people who deliberately and persistently transgressed the requirements of the law like prostitutes and money-lenders. And it is this group – the lower class - who Jesus often hung out with, infuriating the Pharisees because he did not explicitly or directly ask tax collectors and sinners to forsake their sinful lifestyle – for Jesus seems to have accepted them as they were without requiring that they first clean up their lives. Next we need to know that today’s Gospel is a perfect example of what is called a “Trickster’s Tale.” This genre is often used when the story teller wants to challenge the listener to think, in a new way, about the social structures and rules that they live in. These types of stories usually appear when the current culture is focused on protecting its laws and its truths. The goal of the trickster is to turn things upside down and to upend that culture and open the eyes of the oppressed. So, in light of the audience Jesus is speaking to and the current Judaic culture and Roman oppression they are living under…and his desire to effect change, it is no surprise that Jesus uses this genre, Now let’s look at this Gospel in 1st Century context: This is a story of a Steward who is entrusted with selling his Master’s goods. His job is to take his master’s inventory, apply a nominal mark-up for his commission and sell the goods to those around the area. Evidently the Steward was very good at what he did as he was able to place a significant mark-up on top of the Master’s costs 1 Deacon Jim Knipper

2. and still make the sale. But the wise Master recognized that by the Steward gouging the customers on interest that the market would not continue to pay for his goods and thus the Steward was mismanaging his assets. So while short term… the Master was making his margin, albeit his customers were overpaying…long term, he knew that his sales would fall. So he dismissed the Steward – not for being dishonest, but rather for not being prudent. Soon-to-be jobless, the Steward becomes focused on his future – how he will make a living and how he will be accepted by others. So using the same financial talents that got him into trouble in the first place, he does a life course correction; he goes back and rewrites the debtor’s notes, removing his abnormally high interest mark-ups. Through this act of reformation and the reversal of the high mark-ups…his use of his talents are commended by the Master and certainly welcomed by the debtors, winning him praise by the Master and a warm welcome by the community. So what does this Trickster’s Tale mean for you and me? The best way to break this open is to realize that this story mirrors and resonates with the previous story of the Prodigal Son. As both stories begin with a character “squandering” property that belongs to another. Then a turning point is reached when the son/Steward has a moment of self-awareness. Followed by each posing a crucial question to himself and laying down a course of action which he carries out. In the end, both stories have the one who is “prodigal”, who is reckless, received back into fellowship – with the key point being: that acceptance is not dependent upon the contrition or merits of the sinner. Each story has a character who has acted immorally and who tries to make up for the wrong and is met with unmerited mercy and forgiveness. So imagine how these back-to-back parables fell on the ears of the Pharisees and scribes? Or the consolation felt by the tax collectors and the sinners? For these stories talk of: …honor versus shame; humility versus righteousness; compassion versus law; grace versus merit and God versus mammon… The message Jesus proclaimed was not, "Straighten up your life and keep the law." Rather, by eating with them, his message was, "The kingdom of God is yours; you are included." So it was no surprise to find Pope Francis hosting a pizza party for the homeless at the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta! Or that he will close the Year of Mercy with a mass for prisoners and the homeless! He wants to remind them that they are not lost nor abandoned, rather they are welcomed at the table…and so are all of us! The challenge we have is that we tend to remain focused on who is worthy and who is not. But with Jesus it is not about worthiness, it is always about God’s graciousness. Any attempt to measure our worthiness, or that of another, puts us right back into a shame/honor system. But God doesn’t participate in that system. God does not exclude. God has reckless, prodigal love for us. God is filled with compassion for us. God is on the lookout for us. God welcomes us to God’s eternal dwellings. We can never forget that we are inherently, totally, and forever a daughter or son of God. We cannot gain that or lose that by any achievement or failure whatsoever and it is not a question of competing to see who is good enough - whatever that means, since only God is good! For we are all filled with cracks, we all have blemishes…but when we are open to God's goodness and grace we eventually discover a mercy that fills all of our gaps, covers over our marks, soothes our sores and allows us to feel the warm embrace of: the Father who welcomed the Son; the Master who commend the Steward; and of the God who pours upon all of us God’s unmerited love. 2 Deacon Jim Knipper

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