Why are we experiencing more polarization, more division, than perhaps at any time in our collective memories? If you just did a quick google search, (or possibly to prove my point even more immediately, if you find google controversial and now you use duck-duck go or some other site) and typed in a variation of “America divided” you will find practically every main-stream media source having relatively recent pieces on the topic. The Associated Press has a multi-media series that talks about how this has gone from just a political debate that would roil people around each election to seemingly everything: Racial diversity, philosophical ideologies; economic issues; to even bathrooms have become battlefields. Time Magazine is one of the few that will do some self-reflection noting how media which at one time helped revolutionize the world with the speed and ability to share information has contributed to this fracturing and widening of the divide between peoples. Even the truce that people would often rely on, to “agree to disagree” doesn’t seem acceptable anymore. Majorities of people are expressing not simply feeling divided and tense, but that we’re adrift as a people. With fewer and fewer things to unify us, that’s not surprising.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – September 18, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
At the core, much of the problem is the collapse of trust that people have in one another. Institutions that were seen as working for the common good; Corporations and companies that were impartial; even politicians who while having very different agendas and approaches were thought to be working on some shared goals – have all seen those images eroded if not destroyed completely. A recent Gallup survey found that some professions that historically have been viewed positively by the general public for the decades they’ve been asking that question are now at some of the lowest levels they have ever found. No doubt the COVID pandemic and its aftermath have been a massive contributing factor. A lot of these realities that were simmering or slowly boiling before have after this extended time of uncertainty, fear, and anger only worsened.
The lack of trust in all of these sectors unnerves us so dramatically because so many have experienced this on a personal level. Where the breaking of trust resonates on a personal level as we remember family members who have betrayed us, friends, who have backstabbed – it can lead people to become very bitter, jaded, and cynical thinking there’s no one and nothing that is worthy of trust.
Among the thousands of words spilled on this cheery topic one obvious area that wasn’t discussed as to why this is all happening is with a growing number of people turning away from God. Oh, you’ll find a lot of commentators blaming religious figures and institutions for contributing to this dangerous mess. And without a doubt, there have been plenty of Church leaders (from those in our Catholic Christian faith to every other Church, every other religion as well) who have failed in spectacular fashion and diminished people’s views of the role of religion. So we can’t pretend or ignore that reality. But one of the things that have been a growing phenomenon is that when people are asked what their religious affiliation is, those responding “None” is the fastest growing group identified. Sometimes people will lump them all as “atheists” meaning they don’t believe in God. But that’s really not true. A sizable number of them were raised in faith traditions but have walked away from them. To be even more specific, the largest single religious group in the US are Roman Catholics. The second largest group is those who identify as “former Roman Catholics.” There are a lot of reasons why. Some understandably have been hurt by scandals or experienced abuse. Some have left out of confusion – perhaps they really never learned the truth of the teachings of our faith or the need to wrestle with those teachings when they conflict with feelings, desires, or what everyone else is saying, doing, and proposing. But there’s a sizable number that I suspect have simply lost a sense of the importance, the centrality that God expects of His people. And that’s not just true for those who describe themselves as “None” that can affect all of us as well
That is the reality that hit me with this parable this week. A parable that I’ll be honest with you always vexes me and that I struggled with far more than most. Especially coming from where we were last week. Last Sunday we heard what is considered one of the most beloved, most popular of Jesus’ parables – the Prodigal Son. There’s such an abundance of things to reflect on from that one parable that it has inspired works of art, books, and music. Well, the Gospel of Luke has Jesus immediately following that, with today’s parable where we encounter what is considered one of the least favorite, confusing or controversial of parables. Where we hear this story of this sneaky guy re-writing debts to try to make friends in case he’s fired by his employer. It seems like Jesus is praising the very acts of deception that would be the essence of violating trust, the very thing we are all bemoaning as we take a view of the world in which we live, and our own worlds.
But that’s what makes a parable such an effective teaching tool. We’re meant to keep struggling and thinking, and yes, praying with it to keep asking what God is saying. Because it’s not like God hasn’t been clear in establishing morality – telling us what is right and what is wrong – what is Good and what is evil. We have at least 10 that we know of – right? Yet, I don’t have to tell you how easily humanity has distorted those 10 commandments and found loopholes, manipulated their meanings, and found exceptions to them that never existed. Take “honoring the sabbath” for example. The Sabbath is meant to be a day of rest, a beautiful time where we are meant to simply love being with God (worshiping Him) and being with family and friends. The first reading from the prophet Amos was pointing out that even hundreds of years before Jesus, the people of God were violating that. He points out that they couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to be over because they were frustrated they were losing opportunities to make profits. Just by their hearts and minds counting the minutes till it was over, they were in fact not honoring the Sabbath. In our day and age, that’s only intensified. Our busy lives, our non-stop natures where we are constantly squeezing “just one more thing in” has even the most faithful, devout of people running from Mass to shopping not thinking that this “convenience” helps contribute to a world where others have to work, especially those who are poor. I’m embarrassed that last week I broke that myself ordering something online having typed in everything and remembering it was Sunday and then going forward with hitting the “confirm order” button – even though I’ve been really striving not to do anything of the like as my own personal way of recapturing the Sabbath. I digress – but it is an important digression. That’s one commandment that probably most of us break on a regular basis and I can share is the least one I ever hear in the confessional.
So we have some clear commands to tell us right from wrong that we seem to forget or dismiss. Jesus using parables is a way of getting people’s attention and causing listeners to wrestle with what He is saying. And in this one we have plenty: Jesus isn’t advocating white-collar crimes or saying deception is the way to go or telling his disciples they need to find ways to cut corners to get what they need or want. The key to understanding Jesus’ point is when he says the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation.
The Master and the servant have made a choice to pursue the things of this world. They’ve put their trust in the wealth and riches of the world. So in a sense, it is not shocking that their focus will be solely on profits-losses, how those things are mitigated, and who owes someone one. For both the Master and the servant, their lives are completely shaped by these things, and they operate accordingly.
Jesus is pointing out – imagine if those who chose to follow him had that type of dedication, that type of single-minded focus. To always be thinking, acting in ways that reflect they’re children of the light – like this steward does in being a child of the world.
Much of our cynicism and disappointments at all the things that we’ve lost trust in the kind of say we want it all… Where we want to be both of the world and have dual citizenship in God’s Kingdom. In truth – why are most people here at Montclair State University? To get the education, and the skills necessary to get a career to set you up for the rest of your life.
Careers, skills, and money are all important things. Politicians, employers, teachers, and even priests all have roles to play in our daily lives. But as sinful human beings, each of us, and the institutions we are a part of, are prone to scandals and failures. Jesus reminds us that we are to make Him our Master. To put our trust in Him. Then we have to allow Him to guide and shape our lives. With that focus, sure we’ll have disappointments, but we can remain joyful knowing that He hasn’t disappointed us. We can even possess things of this world and not be possessed by them for we see their value doesn’t compare to the immeasurable value Christ brings to our lives. Jesus ends by saying we cannot serve both God and mammon or in other words, we cannot serve Him and pursue the things of this world. Knowing how trustworthy a Master he is, If we chose to put our trust in the things of this world, can we be all that surprised if we end up disappointed?