25th Sunday: Being a Success
What cheaters! Those merchants that the prophet Amos spoke about in the first reading had a great system for swindling people. They got together and decided that they would change the value of the shekel to their advantage. So, to use our terminology, a dollar would cost 150 pennies instead of 100 pennies, and you could only use dollars, not change. Therefore, what would normally cost, say, $10.00 would now cost more, $15.00. Then they changed the weight measurements, the ephod, again to their benefit. So, for example, they changed the weight of a pound from 16 oz to 12 oz. The merchants all worked together, so the people could not get a fair deal anywhere. These were the same merchants who put on the pious front, celebrated the Sabbath and the holy days and closed their places of business, not that they had much choice since the people were not allowed to shop then anyway. The merchants could not wait for the end of the Sabbath or the new moon ending the holy days. Then their businesses could re-open, and they could get back to cheating people. They often would do is let the people run up a tab, and then come collecting. As a result, some of the poor had to sell themselves or members of their family into slavery to pay their bills. Evidently there was instances of people going into slavery because the last thing purchased was something minor, like a pair of sandals. “But,” Amos says, “God sees, and He will not forget what you are doing.”
Certainly, the same warning can be given to those who take advantage of others, and particularly, those who take advantage of the poor and the vulnerable. Many people will have to answer to God for the way that hard working migrants are treated by unjust employers. Many will pay dearly for the human trafficking that takes place throughout our country and even here in Northern Pinellas County as these employers force girls into prostitution to provide yet another source of income. Many will have to answer to God for creating, benefitting from, and supporting the pornography industry that convinces mostly young people to find an instant solution to their money and/or drug problems. Many people will have to answer to God for the creation and sustaining of the abortion industry. Abortion is big business in the United States. The abortion lobby is one of the best financed lobbies in Washington, DC. It is financed by money received by taking advantage of women at the most vulnerable times of their lives, convincing them that for a price they can provide a quick solution to their problem and then leaving them to face the trauma of their decision for the rest of their lives. This is not even touching on the fact that they are making money by killing children. To all of these, Amos says, “God sees, and He will not forget what you are doing.”
It certainly is sad how some people can be so dishonest. Their one and only concern is making as much money as possible, without caring if their methods are just or unjust, moral or immoral. Certainly, all of us have had to deal with people who have done their best to cheat us. We didn’t realize this at the time of our business dealing, whatever it might be, because we took it for granted that the person was sincere. But then we find out that the used car we bought from a friend of a neighbor has a different battery then when we checked the car out, or that the roofer only put nails in half the shingles, etc. And we ask ourselves, “How can that person live with himself, herself?” The answer is, “Quite easily. Quite easily because he or she doesn’t care about anyone other than themselves.” Jesus said at the end of today’s Gospel, “You cannot server two masters, you will hate one and be devoted to the other or vice-versa. A
person cannot serve God and Mammon, or materialism.” If a person is really God fearing to use the older expression, by that they meant someone who respects the Lord, than that person will not be a cheat and a liar. He or she will live for the Lord. If a person is concerned only with using others for his or her own personal benefit, then that person can put on all the piety he or she wants, but the person will only be living for himself or herself, not for the Lord.
At the root of these readings is the answer to this question: What makes someone a success? The swindlers of the first reading and those in our society that make money any way possible, have bought into the lie that success measured by net worth. I remember hearing someone tell me that he wanted to have x amount of money accumulated before he died. Then his life would be a success. How sad. Others will say that a person’s intelligence and skills should lead him or her to make as much money as possible. Also sad. Following that reasoning, a teacher is not as successful as other professionals because other professionals make a lot more money. You know as well as I know that this is not true. But that is the way that many people of the world measure success.
How do we followers of Jesus Christ measure success? Our measure of success is predicated on our union with the Lord. We believe that we were created by God and for God. We were created to serve Him here and be with Him forever. Our lives are successful if we have done all we can to allow our union with God to empower our lives. It is our union with God that demands that we take up the cause of the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable, and those about to be born.
Are we successful in life? Are we closer to God now than we were ten years ago? Are we responding to the ways that He is using us in our vocations, be they priesthood, religious life, single life or marriage? Can others see Christ in the way we treat the members of our family, our classmates, our friends, our workmates? Do we respond to His challenge to care for His Presence in the poor, the afflicted, the vulnerable, and those about to be born? To the degree that we allow God to work through us, to that degree our lives are successful.
At the end of the first reading the Lord says about the cheating merchants, “Never will I forget a thing they have done.” This bad news for them. It is also bad news for us when we hurt others and live for ourselves. But there is also good news in that statement. God will never forget the good things that we have done either. God remembers every time you forced yourself out of bed to take care of your children, even when it was just to convince them that there wasn’t a monster in their room. God will never forget how you helped that young man or young woman learn how to be a better nurse, or office worker, or whatever, even though it was not your job to train him or her. God will never forget how you stepped aside from going out with your buds so you can spend some time with your spouse. God sees the times that we help others and protect them from those who would take advantage of their situation.
God sees, God knows, and God loves. He is the one who prompts us to act as Christians in the first place. We call this Grace.
What is your day like? What is mine? Full of a lot of tasks, no doubt. Being continually pulled on by others, no doubt. But in everything we do, we can serve the Lord. St. Theresa of Lisieux called this the Little Way. If we serve God in every action of our lives, no matter how insignificant that action might seem in the grand scheme of things, then our lives will be a success.
Can we do it? Can we withstand the pressures of the godless elements of our society and live as true Christians? Can we be God-fearing, God-respecting people? The Christian artist called Plumb sings, “I can’t do this by myself.” She is correct. We cannot be successful in life by ourselves. But we are not alone. God did not create us and then abandon us. Jesus did not just call us to follow Him and then leave us to our own devices. God gives us His Holy Spirit to empower us. He strengthens us with His Word and His very Body and Blood. He gives us the courage to stand up for the poor, the vulnerable, those about to be born. By nourishing our union with God, we will live as Christians.
Then our lives will be successful.