25th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Gospel – Lk 16:1-13

" Spirituality of Material Possession? "

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 19th September 2010

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus says, “No servant can be a slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave of both God and of money.” What does Jesus mean by this? How is He challenging you and I to live today’s Gospel? I believe all serious Christians and followers of Jesus would want to reflect on this theme today and not run away from it.

This parable of the “dishonest steward” in today’s Gospel is one of the most difficult parable to preach on because it gives us the impression that Jesus is against material wealth on one hand, while on the other, He seems to be condoning and praising the dishonest action of the steward or manager in the parable.

The very basic question that we are all keen to reflect on today, I suppose is, “How can we be a good Christian and yet, possess material wealth?” First, let me say that Jesus and our Church’s teachings do not say that it is a sin to be rich. Neither is it a sin to live a comfortable and even luxurious life i.e. if the wealth that we have accumulated is through honest means, and through our intelligence, energy and cleverness in our profession and career.

By this I mean that Jesus in today’s Gospel does not mean it to be literal that we cannot be materially rich. What Jesus reminding us is that we should not be a “slave” to material riches and make material wealth our “god” and thus, push Jesus, our real God and Saviour into the background of our lives as though He is unimportant and irrelevant in our lives.

In other words, Jesus is saying that we cannot say we love Him fully and wholeheartedly and yet, at the same time be passionately consumed with our material wealth as though it is the ultimate goal and purpose in life. It is a blessing to be rich, but it is never God’s Will that we put so much importance in accumulating our wealth as though everyone else and everything else in the world is unimportant, This is precisely what Jesus is preaching against as that would be making “money” into a “god.”

If our Church and Jesus are not condemning money and having material possession as evil and sinful in itself, then we can say that “money and God” are not mutually exclusive. This means that we can actually speak and reflect on a “spirituality of material wealth.” By this I am referring to the reality of being able to live a good Christian life and yet, be materially rich so to speak.

Within the limited time I have, I am not able to reflect on the many different aspects of today’s Gospel. But, I would like to begin by stating that money is only a means to an end, and not an end in itself. This means that it is not money in itself that we need, but food, water, clothing, shelter, education and the like in order to live. If Bill Gates, now, the second richest man in the world is lost on an island that does not use money, then all his US$53 billion wealth is worthless on the island and he immediately becomes the poorest man on the island. His wealth on his stranded island is immediately defined by how much water, food and shelter he has to live on.

So, if we were to reflect on our lives, we can say that we need money and wealth because we first need the basic necessities of life like food, water, clothing, shelter, education and the like that costs money. Money is needed because we need all these basic necessities to help us live healthily, comfortably and securely. More money is needed and are good only in the sense that the more money we have the more comfortable and secure we may be in our material needs in life. But, if we are over concerned and preoccupied with having more and more money at the expense of our spiritual life , then we are moving towards making money and our material possessions into a “god.” There is a saying that, “its so difficult to save money because our neighbours keep buying things that we cannot afford.”

Material needs and comforts are good in themselves, but they in themselves do not define the fullness of what it is to be a human person. All of us, without exception need the spiritual dimension and the reality of our God to give us the deepest meaning of who we truly are and how we are to live our lives daily.

True happiness in life can only be experienced if we have God at the centre of our lives. This is because it is God who has created us and given us life; we are in the world today because of God. It is God too who has saved us from our sinfulness through Jesus Christ His Son and destined that He wants all peoples to live in happiness with Him for all eternity in heaven.

Ideally, the steward or manager in today’s Gospel should not have been dishonest with his good and merciful master. He should have used all his intelligence, energy and cleverness to serve his master faithfully and honestly. Likewise, we who have been blessed so abundantly by our good and merciful God should use all our intelligence, energy and cleverness to love God and our neighbour more sincerely and more wholeheartedly.

But, if we forget God, the source of our many blessings in life; worse still, if we were to make our money and material possessions our “god” in life, then like the dishonest manager in the Gospel who lost his job, we too may have to face the reality that we may one day lose our relationship with God because we have made money and things our “gods” in life. To loose God is to have lost everything in our life.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if there is such a thing as a “spirituality of material possession,” this would simply mean that we each have to learn to find God amidst the money and material possessions in our lives. Obviously, each of us would be challenged differently as some of you may be earning $50,000 or more a month, while others are barely earning $500 a month, and I having a $50.00 allowance a month.

Even as today’s Gospel is challenging you and I differently, we have each to face the reality of being accountable to God. God who has blessed us so abundantly and generously expects us to reciprocate His generosity and love for us by using them for the good of others during our life time. The more generous we are the more fulfilling, joyful and beautiful our lives would be. But, if we live on the contrary, in self-centered ways, then the effects on our lives would also obviously be the opposite.

Over the last year or so, in our Parish, if there is one thing (amongst other things) that we can be happy about, it is the significant responses and differences we, as a community have made to the poor and needy in the world. Because of our Parish community, hundreds and in some cases thousands are now have better housing, healthier food, cleaner water, improved education facilities, proper medical care, more comprehensive pastoral programmes and a brighter future . . . This is what the Christian faith is about; the care and love for one another, especially those who are in need because of our love for God.

In this context, let me add that as from this week, our Parish Adoration and Prayer room is available for our use. We have a new facility to help us grow in our faith and deepen our personal relationship with the Lord through spending more time quiet time with the Lord in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

These last two points about our Parish is highly relevant to Jesus’ Gospel challenge to each of us today. If as a Parish community, we are able to care and love others who are in dire need, and if we are able to deepen our personal love for our Lord through quiet prayer times, then we can be sure that our blessings of material possessions and wealth will not overpower us and become our “gods” in life.

While all of these are happily taking place in our Parish as community, you and I too are not free from our personal responsibility of continuing to learn how to find God presence a midst the blessings of material possessions and wealth that God has given us so abundantly.

In short, as I conclude, in today’s Gospel, when Jesus said that we cannot serve the two masters of God and money, He is challenging you and I to develop a healthier and deeper spirituality of first, learning to see how all our material possessions and money are actually blessings from Him. Second, Jesus wants us to use all these blessings that His Father has given us for the good of others, and not simply hoard them for our selfish needs. Third, that we, unlike the shrewd manager in today’s Gospel, use all our intelligence, energy and cleverness to love God and our neighbour more sincerely and more wholeheartedly, and not allow our material possessions to possess us because it is God who should possess our hearts and fill our homes with His Peace, Truth and Love; because, it is God who should be our true God in life not money and our possessions; because it is God, our Lord and Saviour who is the ultimate meaning and fulfillment in life; nothing else.

Fr Philip Heng, S.J.

Click HERE to see the new Parish Adoration and Prayer room.

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