September 17/18, 2022 - The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Paul T. Keil, 17-18 Sep, 2022

          Peace be with you and greetings on this, our celebration of the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Well,,, after what I just read, I must ask, come on Lord?  Is this Gospel reading for real?  Jesus tells us about a steward who cheated his master, gets caught, and then cheats his master a second time, and then ultimately his master complements him for his ingenuity.  Really?

Now, I’m not sure how many of you have ever heard of a Biblical Scholar at Vanderbilt University, named Professor Amy-Jill Levine.  She’s written several books on the Bible one of which, entitled “Short Stories by Jesus” I used a few years back for our own Adult Bible Study here at Good Shepherd.  You might guess by the title, “Short Stories by Jesus”, the book is specifically about Jesus’ parables.  Another interesting fact about Dr Levine is, even though she is herself Jewish, she is the Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt.  And if you read her bio, you’ll see she is very complementary of the Catholic Church because she feels Catholic Biblical Scholars generally know how to read and interpret the Bible in the appropriate context.  She is not nearly as complimentary about some other Christian denominations and their Bible interpretations, however.

When reading New Testament Parables Professor Levine recommends a few common ground-rules.  First, she says we must try to hear Jesus’ parables with the heart and mind of a 1st Century Jew.  My friends, that’s not necessarily easy to do without a little contextual study.  Second, she says if the parable doesn’t challenge, shock, or surprise us, we’re probably misinterpreting it.   Well, no problem with the one we just heard today, right?  And finally, she says, don’t ever assume the master, the landowner, the head of household, the father, or other central figure in the story represents, or speaks for God.  She specifically singles out the father figure in the Prodigal Son Parable and says Christian preachers, homilists, and catechists continually get it wrong.

Regardless, if Professor Levine is right in today’s parable, the master who commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently, is just another flawed, worldly character whose priorities appear to be wealth, power, and dishonesty.  Consequently, the parable itself actually ends with the master’s complement of the dishonest steward and Jesus’ teaching about the parable begins when he says, “For the Children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”  And of course, Jesus’ teaching culminates with a couple of verses that should challenge all of us, “No servant can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Interestingly, based on this one and other of Jesus Parables, there is a meditation called the “Meditation of the Two Standards” used during the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  In the meditation Ignatius leads us to realize there are two forces – two masters – always competing for our minds and hearts.  Those two masters are Jesus Christ and Satan.  Both are vying for our minds, hearts, fidelity, and ultimately, our souls.  While Satan presents the allure of honor, power, pleasure, and wealth as the aim and fulfillment of our lives, Jesus presents the way of spiritual fulfillment, humility, and the realization everything is a gift.  All the goods that we are given, whether material or spiritual, become reasons for gratitude rather than greed.  Once Jesus is our master, he frees us, and wealth and the goods of the world lose their domineering force, and we can use them as means of generosity and the building up of the Kingdom of God.

So, as I thought about the Ignatian Meditation of the Two Standards it reminded me of the Native American parable of the two wolves.  I’m sure some have heard it before, but I think it’s so vivid, colorful, and descriptive it really makes a point and I’d like to present it now.  See what you think.  An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life and speaks.  “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.  “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves.  One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”  The old man continued, “The other wolf is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  The same fight is going on inside of you – and inside every other person, too.”  The young boy asked, “Grandfather, which wolf inside of me will win?”  The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

My sisters and brothers, before each one of us there is a choice to be made.  In the Native American parable, the choice is which wolf do we feed?  In today’s Gospel Jesus is clearly asking, which master will we serve?  He is very clear when he says, “No servant can serve two masters.  He will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Mammon.”  In the Ignatian Meditation of the Two Standards the two masters are even more definitive, Jesus Christ or Satan.  It is this fundamental decision that stands before each Christian disciple.  Ultimately, the master whom we decide to serve will determine the way in which we see the world, carry out our actions, and live our lives.  What Jesus is teaching in this weekend’s Gospel, cannot be overstated.  Which wolf will you feed.  Which master will you serve.


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