Twenty-fifth Sunday: Ingenuity for the Kingdom


            Today's gospel reminds me of a story I read about an enterprising soldier. A young man joined the Israeli army and, after his training was assigned to a tank division near the Israeli-Syrian border.  He had only been working for one week when he went to his commanding officer and asked for a leave.  The commanding officer started laughing and then said to him, "You want a leave?  You just got here.  OK, I'll give you a leave, but on one condition, you have to capture a Syrian tank."  "No problem," said the young man.  Later on that afternoon, a Syrian tank waiving a white flag pulled into the Israeli camp.  The young Israeli soldier got out.  The commanding soldier said, "The leave is yours.  But how did you get this tank?" "Simple," said the soldier, "I drove to the DMZ in one of our tanks. saw a Syrian soldier on one of his tanks.  I asked him if he wanted a weekend pass.  He said, Sure, so we switched tanks."


            The old comedian Danny Thomas used to tell a story about two salesmen, Harry and Al.  Harry saw Al walking down the street and said to him, "Al, I have a great deal for you.  A real bargain!  An elephant.  A whole elephant.  Yours for only $500." Al said, "Are you crazy? What am I going to do with an elephant?" "Al," said Harry, "This is a magnificent beast.  All grey.  Complete with a working trunk."  Then Harry said, "But I have no place to keep an elephant.  I live in a small three room apartment."  "Al," said Harry, "Did I tell you about the tusks?  Two three foot long tusks.  This is a beautiful animal.  They don't make them like this anymore."  At this Al went wild and started screaming, "Look I live on the third floor, I couldn't feed the elephant.  I don't even want an elephant."  "You're a hard man, Al" says Harry, "OK, I'll throw in a second whole elephant for only a hundred bucks extra."  And then Al said, "Harry, now you're talking."


            It is amazing how astute we can be when making business deals.  Whether it's buying a used car or selling a house, all of us learn how to get the most for our money.  This is not something new.  It's part of human nature to get the best deal possible.  Jesus was aware of this.  The parable he told about the steward who had to think quick to get himself out of a financial jam recognized human ingenuity. 


            The Lord's point is that we often demonstrate our intelligence, but we don't apply this intelligence to the one thing that really matter: our eternal salvation.  Consider the number of times we've sat down and worked out how we can use our talents to be better Christians.  Consider the number of times we've thought out how we can put ourselves in situations which would avoid moral problems we've had in the past.  Consider the number of times we've  plotted out how we can implant the practice of our faith in our families. If we were to add up the minutes spent a month doing this and compare them to the minutes a month spent working out our financial deals, would there be any comparison at all? 


            Christ tells us: You have the intelligence, use it. Use it to fulfill the mission you assumed when I called you to be my disciples. We must be as resourceful and dedicated in the ways of God as we are in the ways of commerce and politics.  Jesus' parable challenges us to be eager and ingenious for the sake of God's reign.


            Some people, like those in the first reading from the prophet Amos have perfected how they can out-smart others.  They cheat with their scales.  They inflate money. That is not why God gave us intelligence.  He gave us intelligence to make His presence real in the world.  The cleverness, skill and plain nerve that the manager used to save his skin, and that the soldier used to secure a weekend pass, and that Al used to get a good deal from Harry, we must use to make God's ways real in our world.  Today we ask the Lord to help us use our ingenuity to promote His Kingdom.