The selections in this week’s Scripture from the prophet Amos and the Gospel passage from Luke can remind us of being dowsed with a bucket of cold water. Amos expresses God’s anger with those who take advantage of the poor. Some fix scales for cheating. Others “buy the lowly for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals.” Still others sell wheat chaff to make money. God swears that he will never forget what they have done. Things do not get any better in the Gospel reading, for Jesus tells the story of a group that can only be described as a den of thieves. The wealthy master probably achieved his wealth by dishonest means, since he consequently praises the steward for his devious actions as the steward leaves. The steward openly stole from the master both prior to losing his position as steward and after he had been discovered in his dishonesty. The two debtors gladly accept the reduction of what they owe the master. Both readings reek with dishonesty and thievery.
One can rightfully ask, “Where is the good news in all of this?” Initially, good news need not only be expressed as a series of warm “fuzzies.” In these passages the good news comes as an admonition to reform one’s life. The conversion demanded by God and Jesus squarely demands strict observance of the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex 20: 15). To steal from another also clearly offends the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Both Amos and Jesus are calling for a renewed commitment to something as basic as the command not to steal.
There is, however, a deeper issue of attitude present in both readings. The offenders mentioned by both Amos and Jesus manifest divided loyalties. On one hand we find the need for honest living. On the other hand, we allow the “worship” of material wealth to cloud our view of what’s right. To live honestly shows that God and God’s ways motivate our actions and dealings with others. To worship material wealth divides our loyalties, for as Jesus states at the end of the Gospel passage, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
These admonitions are particularly apt for people living in a materialistic culture. Our contemporary life encourages us to obtain more and more — wealth, clothing, technology, food. Such desires subtly remove God from his rightful position as the center of our life and replace him with material goods. Today’s good news of admonition challenges us to examine how we live and what we desire. The Amos’ warning includes within itself the very strong encouragement to care for those in need by not taking advantage of their helplessness and poverty. Jesus goes even deeper pointing out that a truly honest life will have God as its center.
Jesuit Fr. Jack Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.