Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Becoming Spiritually Savvy
“Well, if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge you can buy.” That expression came from the antics of George C. Parker. George C. Parker was a clever con man who used to convince people that he could sell them the Brooklyn Bridge. They say he sold the Brooklyn Bridge as often as twice a week for thirty years. Now, why would anyone want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge? It’s not like they could put it in their back yards. Well, Parker told his victims that once they owned the bridge, they could set their own tolls. This is a true story. It took place during the 1920's in New York City. Several times the police had to stop the “new owners” of the Brooklyn Bridge from setting up toll booths in the middle of the span.
Now, aside from being naive, and perhaps a bit dim-witted, why would people believe Parker and give him up to $50,000 for the Bridge? This happened because Parker worked hard studying his potential victims. He knew what made them tick and exploited their weakness. For some it was greed; for others it was vanity. “You could rename the bridge after yourself. After all, it would be your bridge.” One man had his doubts and asked Parker, “Are you sure the bridge is for sale?”
Parker told him, “Of course it is for sale, didn’t you see the for sale sticker on one of the beams?”
And the man believed him!
For those who were a bit more intelligent, hopefully the rest of the world, Parker had set up an office complete with pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge and bogus legal papers. He did quite a bit of work and earned quite a bit of cash. Oh, he also was convicted of fraud and spent the last nine years of his life in New York’s Sing Sing Prison.
We don’t have to go back 100 years to find people using their intelligence to cheat people. No one appeared brighter or worked harder, or was a bigger cheat than Bernie Madoff. He held high positions on Wall Street. Major companies, large charities and the extremely rich had to beg him to meet with them to discuss investments. Some of them made money. But then what he was doing, a ponzi scheme, came to light in 2008. Investigators estimated the amount of money he cheated people out of to be 64.8 billion dollars. He thought he was so smart, but he was a cheat. He is currently an inmate at a Federal Prison serving a 150 year term.
The first reading presents ancient Hebrews cheating their fellow countrymen. They diminish the ephah, and add to the shekel, and fix their scales for cheating. Let me explain. Say, you were going to buy ten pounds of flour. The flour merchant says that a pound is no longer 16 oz. It is now 12 oz. That would be diminishing the pound. So it would cost you more to buy the amount of flour you needed. And say that you could only buy flour by using the Temple money, the shekel. That meant you had to go to the money changers. You usually get, making a comparison using our terms, a shekel for two dollars. But the money changers, in cahoots with the merchants, are saying that a shekel now costs three dollars. So you end up paying a tremendous amount more for less flour. And to make matters worse, the merchants fix the scales so you are not even getting the little you think you are getting. What cheats! The first reading concludes with “The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!”
We are continually coming upon athletes who cheat. The whole Russian track and field team was barred from the Olympics due to the organized use of performance enhancing drugs. Many honest athletes take second and third to those who are dishonest. But at least the honest athletes can sleep at night knowing that win or lose, they have done their honest best. The same goes for those who cheat at school. Some “A’s” are dishonest. It is better to have an honest “C” than a dishonest “A.” People have plenty of opportunities to deceive others. It is easy for some people to make others suffer so that they can gain something, financial, athletic, in school, etc. But, as the first reading says, they cannot deceive the Lord. He knows, and he will not forget.
There is another aspect to all this. That is the effort that cheaters put into acquiring dishonest gain. That is what the Lord was speaking about when he told the parable of the cheating or unjust steward. Imagine if that man, and if all cheaters who spend so much time and effort devising schemes to commit fraud would instead use their intelligence to serve the Kingdom of God.
Imagine what our spiritual lives would be like if we used every bit of our intelligence to find ways to live as members of God’s Kingdom?
Well, I know many of you do exactly that. Many of you, and hopefully I can say, of us, use our wits for the sake of the Kingdom of God. I love the story in this regard that Randy Raus tells. Randy is the president of Life Teen International. He lives in Atlanta and attends a parish that has 24 hour Eucharistic Adoration, seven days a week. Now as Randy tells the story, he went to Eucharistic Adoration 1 am on a Monday morning. The way his parish has it set up is that in the late night and early morning, the chapel doors are locked. When a person goes to spend time there, he or she knocks on the door and the person inside lets him in and they switch places. Well, it seems that one time Randy did this and the man who let him in saw that Randy was carrying a notebook and a pen. So, he asked him, “What are going to do with those?” Randy said that he likes to journal. “What’s that?” the man asked. So Randy explained that he looks at the Blessed Sacrament and writes what he feels the Lord is saying to Him. The man asked if that always worked, and Randy said most of the time. Well, the next week when Randy went to Eucharistic Adoration the same man let him in. He was carrying his journal. He said to Randy, “God’s saying a lot tonight.”
They met up again a week later, and Randy asked him, “I haven’t seen you in Church, which Mass do you go to?”
“Well, I don’t go to Mass,” the man said, but after this, I’m going to start going again.”
Randy was shocked. He said, “You don’t go to Mass but you go to Eucharistic Adoration?”
The man responded, “My wife told me that they need a night watchman here from 12 to 1 on Mondays.”
Now, there is a wife who used her intelligence to spread the Kingdom of God. She figured out a way to get her husband back to Mass with him thinking that this was his idea and a good one. I’ve heard that wives are pretty good at that, getting their husbands to do the right thing while having him think it was his idea. Let’s face it, guys, most girls know how to outsmart us. Now, ladies, I can read your thoughts. Your thinking, “It really doesn’t take much, Father.”
I’m sure that there are plenty people reading this who could also tell stories on how they used their intelligence to bring others to God or to come closer to Him themselves. There are many people who know how to avoid problems and how to put themselves in the proper place to be the sons or daughters of God they were created to be.
A person who acts on his or her intelligence is often called “savvy”. A savvy person is as shrewd as a fox. Parker and Madoff thought they were savvy, but they each ended up in prison. And they weren’t savvy with that which matters. We can be savvy in finding ways to spread the Kingdom of God.
Today we pray for the grace to always be honest and respectful of others and the grace, well, to be spiritually savvy.