I think most of us are old enough to remember when stores were closed on Sunday. They called it the “blue law” and about the only thing open was the drug store. If you needed gas you’d better get it on Saturday because even the filling stations were closed on Sunday. Eventually the drug stores got the idea of selling bread and milk on the Lord’s day. Every once in a while some discount store would decide to break the law and be open. Then the police would show up and arrest everybody, they’d all make bail, and the store would be open again.
Today, with everything open 24/7 that all seems like a distant memory. But the memory is a good one. Sunday was special. You’d go to church in the morning then have the whole day to rest and relax with your family. Life was much simpler.
Now, there are very few days in the year when everything’s closed and soon those days won’t be special anymore either. Look at Thanksgiving. First stores started opening really early on Friday morning. Now we have some opening on Thursday evening. It won’t be long before Thanksgiving will be just another day to shop. When that happens, Christmas and Easter won’t be far behind.
Two of my adult children are still in the retail business and it’s almost impossible to schedule a birthday party or other family gathering on the weekend because one or both of them is working Saturday and Sunday.
In the early ‘70s I worked for a retail electronics store. It was part of a chain and my boss lived in Chicago where they had no blue laws. It used to drive him crazy that the drug store next to us in the strip mall could be open on Sunday, selling batteries and TV tubes while we had to be closed. I could see what was coming and got out of retail before the blue laws were repealed.
I thought about those days when I read today’s first reading. “Hear this, you who trample on the needy and destroy the poor of the land! ‘When will the new moon be over,’ you ask, ‘that we may sell our grain, and the Sabbath, that we may display the wheat?’
Under Jewish law, you couldn’t do business during the new moon or on the Sabbath. Like the retailers back in the 1970s, they hated to lose even one day of business. Notice what Amos calls them: “you who trample on the needy and destroy the poor of the land”. Apparently these weren’t nice guys. All they cared about was the almighty dollar, or shekel, or whatever it was that they worshipped. Their hearts and minds were in the wrong place and Amos warned them that “The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob; Never will I forget a thing they have done.”
If we look at Luke’s Gospel for today, there’s a similar theme. Jesus tells his disciples the parable of the dishonest steward. He’s been squandering his master’s property and the master demands a full accounting. The steward is in a real spot. He knows he’s probably going to be fired. When word gets out that he was fired for stealing, no one will hire him. Remember there was no such thing as unemployment insurance, food stamps, or any other kind of aid for him. What can he do? “He says “I’m not strong enough to dig and I’m ashamed to beg.” But those will be his only choices if he loses his job.
So, he decides that if he calls in his master debtors and offers to reduce their debts, at least he’ll have some friends when he gets thrown out on his ear.
Now, here’s where the parable gets confusing. When the master hears what the steward has done, he commends him for acting prudently. Wait a minute! He’s been ripping his master off. He’s been found out. So he rips the master off some more and he’s commended.
But here’s where we have to remember that Jesus often said outrageous things. “Love your enemies.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” His message isn’t if you get caught stealing, steal some more. His message is that when you get in trouble, take a good hard look at the situation then do something about it. Don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself, take action.
He’s also telling us that money isn’t a god. We don’t worship money, or at least we shouldn’t. Temporal goods are temporary. “No servant can serve two masters….You cannot serve both God and mammon.” In yesterday’s (Friday’s) Gospel He said, “Love of money is the root of all evil.” We often hear this phrase quoted as “money is the root of all evil.” But that’s not true. It’s loving money that gets us into trouble. We all need money. We need it to live and we need it to share with those less fortunate than we are. We couldn’t run this church without money.
And that brings up a good point. We all give money to the church; at least I hope we do. If you give all that you can, then you’re showing that you love God more than stuff. But, if you toss a few bucks into the offering basket, but not too much because there’s a big screen TV you have your eye on and you really want it, especially during the football season, then you have to ask yourself what you love more. Are you turning money into a god?
Only you can answer that question, but God’s telling us today that you’d better get it right. Remember what Amos said, “The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!” We might add that he won’t forget a thing that we haven’t done either.
Times are tough. In spite of what you hear on the news, a lot of people are out of work. The unemployment numbers are looking better only because so many people have just given up. They’ve stopped looking for a job. It used to be that we’d get a phone call here once in a while from someone looking for help with their rent. We always refer them to Saint Vincent de Paul or Catholic Charities. But I’ve gotten two calls like that in the last week.
On top of that, you’ve got the flooding in Colorado and now in Mexico. There are just so many people who need our help. We don’t want to be like those merchants in the first reading, trampling the needy and destroying the poor. Just this week our Holy Father spoke about how important it is for us to help one another. Like his namesake, Francis of Assisi, he has a special concern for those in need.
If we do nothing else, we should be bombarding heaven with prayers for those in need. Even better is to back up those prayers with whatever money we can afford. There are also a lot of opportunities right here in the neighborhood to volunteer our time. Like I said, only you know what you can afford in time and treasure. You’ve been very generous in your contributions of food and school supplies, in supplies for the elderly and in our yearly toy collection. But we all need to do more.
Be aware of those around you. Something as simple as helping someone carry their groceries to the car, or helping someone in a wheelchair get through a doorway is the kindness that’s often missing in this world. The Catholic Church has always been known for helping the poor. Catholic Charities is the largest social service agency in the state of Missouri. Catholic hospitals provide millions of dollars of free care every year.
As they told me when I once volunteered with Catholic Charities, “we don’t help people because they’re Catholic. We help them because we’re Catholic.” That’s our calling. Can we do any less?
If you’ll bear with me for just another minute, I want to mention that next Saturday is the feast of Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech Republic. When he was killed by his brother’s men, he was almost immediately declared a saint. The people loved him because he was a benevolent king but even more for all that he did to help the poor. He used to sneak out at night and take food to the poor when no one was around to see him. Even though he was a wealthy man, he did everything he could to help his people in need. Saint Wenceslas, pray for us .