All three readings of today’s liturgy point to issues of social justice. In an age in which self- interest and individualism often call the tune, we Christians must not neglect these issues. Our world is far more complex than that of Amos the prophet. Corruption has different forms these days – carefully concealed but just as sinful, because of the damage it does to the life of the community. The inequitable sharing of the world’s resources, often artificially maintained, that contributes significantly to world tensions, should be a matter of concern for all Christians.
The situation described in the letter to Timothy is very different from ours – but at the same time so similar. The Christians of that community had no possibility of manipulating the levers of power in the politics of the Roman Empire. The Church should not endeavour to manipulate the political processes of today’s democratic state. In both situations, however, Christians still have great responsibility, as citizens. We must make an honourable contribution to the common welfare, at whatever level we are involved. We must have no part in the corruption that can be very tempting, in the complex processes of today’s social order. We must support legitimate authority; and have good will towards our fellow citizens, respecting their different points of view, and seeking to work together with them to make a just society. Our great contribution is the Christian values we live by – the vitality of a human community comes from the values its citizens are committed to.
In today’s gospel, we meet again Luke’s concern to bring home to his fellow Christians the responsibilities and dangers brought by this world’s possessions. All will be well in this area of our social responsibility, if our real concerns look beyond the material things that are a necessary part of our lives. If the Church today, as Pope John Paul II has said, renounces any desire ‘to be a participant or competitor in the game of politics’, it is called to contribute to the wellbeing of the human community by the witness and example it gives. Our lives, and the quality of our relationships as a Christian community, should demonstrate to our troubled world that living according to the ways Christ has given us is not a bondage, but a fulfilment.
The parable of the unjust steward is puzzling. Scholars are not agreed whether the ‘astuteness’ praised by his master was making fraudulent changes to his debtors’ promissory notes, or his forgoing claims for the commission customary in such transactions. In either case the lesson is clear: those dedicated to worldly pursuits are often more wholehearted in their projects than believers are in promoting the things of God. We certainly have a long way to go, if the effective witness held up to us by John Paul II as a goal is to become a reality.
John Thornhill sm