Saturday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time

The theme of generosity in today’s readings invites us to reflect spiritually but does not excuse us from examining our attitude towards money.  We know that money isn’t good in and of itself: it can give us a certain power to acquire other material goods, but is itself neither good nor evil.  The Pharisees are accused by Jesus of being “lovers of money.”  On the other hand, Saint Paul thanks the Philippians for giving to him in his need.  The Pharisees are interested in increasing wealth in order to continue to have power and influence.  Saint Paul sees neither wealth nor poverty as evil in and of themselves, but rather the attitude of heart we can have in either of those situations.

We must begin by changing our minds about what it means to have things, to have wealth, to have money.  We have to reexamine what we understand about ownership and possessions.  As in the Gospel, we see the clever but dishonest steward using what did not belong to him to gain friendships and security.  Jesus, is telling us that we must start by considering all that we have, all that we control, all that we possess, as actually belonging to another.  It could all be removed from us in a moment – we could be removed from our position of influence or of wealth without notice.  God says, “you fool, this very night your life will be demanded of you.”  We must then see that our position can be used to our advantage: so long as we do have control, we can use what doesn’t really belong to us to gain relationships that will continue after we lose our earthly stewardship.  When we use what doesn’t truly belong to us anyway in a generous way, mercifully, we are liberating our soul from the eternal poverty of being without God.

Saint Augustine reminds us that we don’t even need to worry about whether someone is worthy of our generosity – as though we were worthy of our own ill-gotten wealth.  In one of his sermons, he says, “We can understand that we have to give alms and that we must not really pick and choose to whom we give them, because we are unable to sift through people’s hearts. When you give alms to all different types of people, then you will reach a few who deserve them. You are hospitable, and you keep your house ready for strangers. Let in the unworthy, in case the worthy might be excluded. You cannot be a judge and sifter of hearts.”

CHRYSOSTOM:

He wants those who do well not to fall into thoughtlessness. He urges them to become more zealous in well-doing, since they are thereby doing good to themselves. Those who are on the receiving end of gifts must not go on receiving thoughtlessly, lest they incur judgment.1

ORIGEN:

Suffering poverty is often thought to be a tribulation, but abundance also may be an occasion for tribulation. The wise person restrains himself from being enervated by abundance.2

AUGUSTINE:

All sorts of people indeed can suffer poverty, but to “know how to suffer poverty” is a mark of greatness. Likewise, who is there who may not abound? But to “know how to abound” belongs to none but those who are not corrupted by abundance.3

CHRYSOSTOM:

Abundance does not yield either knowledge or virtue. How so? Because just as penury occasions much wrongdoing, so does plenty. Many who have become affluent have become derelict. They do not know how to bear their good fortune. But not so with Paul, for what he received he spent on others. He emptied himself for others.4

AUGUSTINE:

We can understand that we have to give alms and that we must not really pick and choose to whom we give them, because we are unable to sift through people’s hearts. When you give alms to all different types of people, then you will reach a few who deserve them. You are hospitable, and you keep your house ready for strangers. Let in the unworthy, in case the worthy might be excluded. You cannot be a judge and sifter of hearts.5

CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:

Let those of us who possess earthly wealth open our hearts to those who are in need. Let us show ourselves faithful and obedient to the laws of God. Let us be followers of our Lord’s will in those things that are from the outside and not our own. Let us do this so that we may receive what is our own, that holy and admirable beauty that God forms in people’s souls, making them like himself, according to what we originally were.6

Footnotes

  1. HOMILY ON PHILIPPIANS 16.4.10–14. Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). (1999). Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (p. 285). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. COMMENTARY ON ROMANS 4.9. Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). (1999). Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (p. 285). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. ON THE GOOD OF MARRIAGE 25. Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). (1999). Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (p. 285). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. HOMILY ON PHILIPPIANS 16.4.10–14. Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). (1999). Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (p. 285). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. SERMON 359A.11–12. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 255). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. COMMENTARY ON LUKE, HOMILY 109. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 256). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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