Finally, I Understand!

Each week, I prepare to fill this space by praying for inspiration and then reading the scriptures we’ll hear at the coming Sunday’s Masses. Sometimes, as has been the case today, I reread them several times until the message sinks in. Usually, a recent event which relates to the theme comes to mind and I have my story. Today, I find myself struggling with Luke’s Gospel and I’m not certain of where to go from here. Last Sunday’s passage from Luke included my favorite of Jesus’ parables, The Prodigal Son. Jesus used this story to assure us that the Prodigal Son’s father extended the same loving and merciful welcome to his son which God offers to each one of us over and over again. Much to my dismay, that wonderfully loving and hope-filled parable was preceded and followed by passages which offer difficult and puzzling exhortations from Jesus. So it is that I’ve stopped to pray one more time before continuing…

Here I go… In today’s gospel reading (Luke 16:1-13), Luke recounts another occasion on which Jesus used a story to teach. Jesus offered the tale of a man who handled the financial affairs of a wealthy landowner. That landowner discovered that his steward had cheated him. So it was that he ordered that steward to account for his actions. The dishonest steward could see that his firing was imminent. Because he was too proud to dig ditches or to beg, the steward took action. To ensure his financial future, he called in his master’s debtors. The steward directed one to cut his debt by twenty percent and another to cut his debt by half. The steward’s newfound allies would certainly see to his well-being after his master fired him. During that final accounting, the master marveled at the efforts of his dishonest employee. That wealthy landowner seemed not to be surprised that his steward had found a way to save himself.

Let me explain that when the steward cut the debts of his master’s clients, he did so by the amount which would have been his own commission. Though The Law forbade charging exorbitant interest rates, it was common for stewards to tack their own fees onto their masters’ loans. When the steward erased his share of those loans, he befriended possible benefactors while also seeing to it that his master was fully repaid. Though the steward failed to keep his job, he succeeded in making a bad situation tolerable by cutting everyone’s losses before he moved on. Jesus surprised me by focusing upon the creativity of that steward rather than taking issue with his dishonesty. It occurs to me that perhaps Jesus did this to draw attention to the realities of life in this not-so-perfect world. Perhaps Jesus hoped to encourage us to use our ingenuity to draw some good from the negative circumstances which surround us just as that steward did.

I’d like to think that most of our good deeds don’t stem from our wrong-doing as was the case with the dishonest steward. Nonetheless, our goodness is often inspired by the imperfections of life on this earth. The devastation wielded by Hurricane Dorian overwhelmed its victims in the Bahamas as well as on our own east coast. Wildfires in the west have done the same. Our recent observance of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks provided a stark reminder of the new brand of evil which was born that day. Today’s streamed and broadcast news programs provide ongoing evidence that violence has become a way of life in both faraway countries and nearby communities. Yet, in the midst of all of this suffering, efforts to bring assistance and relief came and continues to come from every direction. Just as they did in response to the 9/11 tragedy, heroes among us roll up their sleeves and pick up the pieces in faraway countries as well as here at home. These generous souls do whatever is needed to make things better as only they can.

Finally, I think I understand Jesus’ point. Finally, Jesus’ focus upon the steward’s dishonesty and his attempt to pick up the pieces and to make things right for himself makes sense. Life in this world is indeed imperfect, sometimes because of our own wrongdoing, sometimes because of the misdeeds of others and sometimes because of circumstances over which none of us have control. Whatever the case, Jesus used the tale of that dishonest steward to encourage us to do something. Jesus asks each of us to be equally creative in making the most of the difficulties at hand. You know, two of my favorite newscasts end each segment by highlighting individuals who demonstrate the amazing capacities we humans have to be our best and to do our best to love and to care for one another. It seems to me that God would like to end each day by recounting with us our own efforts to be our best and to do our best to love and care for one another.

I hope you’ll agree that my prayers for inspiration were answered today. I also hope that you’ll join me in taking this parable to heart. Though the Parable of the Prodigal Son continues to be my favorite, my affection for Jesus’ Parable of the Dishonest Steward has grown. That prodigal son keeps us ever mindful that God will always love us and God will always forgive us whenever that forgiveness is needed. That conniving steward assures us that even our worst behavior has the potential to accomplish good in God’s scheme of things. There is so much that needs our attention today! Will you join me in picking up the pieces and making something better as only we can?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You’ll Know…

Whatever place does not welcome you
or listen to you, leave there and
shake the dust off your feet…

Mark 6:11

I find it extremely difficult to shake the dust off my feet. I usually find peace in the familiar and I’m reluctant to make a change when the status quo is working. The few instances in which I’ve done so were the result of impending danger, both physical and psychological, to someone I love or to me. This propensity to stay connected is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. My mom often said, “I leave the door open. If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus welcomed everyone who crossed his path as well. Since I subscribe to Jesus’ way of life, I try to welcome people as he did.

Still, there are people who really aren’t good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they do take a psychological or spiritual toll on us. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone, I need to listen. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I need never to speak to this person again. However, it may mean that I should limit our contact. Sometimes, this limit can only be achieved when I vacate the premises. The same can be true of situations, be they our jobs, circles of friends, neighborhoods and even our churches. I need to listen to my gut regarding these as well.

This may seem like an odd topic for a spiritual reflection, I know. However, I have good reason for sharing this. Sometimes, good people think that part of “being good” is to allow themselves to be hurt unnecessarily. I truly believe that God could not disagree more.

Dear God, keep us safe and wise. Help us to recognize harm and guide us away from its source.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Away The Hatred

Each week, I mail my Sunday reflections to several people who don’t have access to them via my parish bulletin or online. I include a little note with my greetings and a bit of current news. When I did so last week, I shared with one friend that I intentionally didn’t acknowledge the anniversary of September 11. That date marks an extremely painful time for us. Much to my dismay, many equivalent evils beset our world these days. I simply didn’t know where to begin. However, as soon as I sent off that note, I felt compelled to make an attempt. I had read Luke’s gospel and found myself troubled by Jesus’ words as well. Jesus seemed to hold up a man who was no more than a petty thief. Why highlight his crafty evildoing? I had to attempt to understand…

As Luke (Luke 16:1-13) tells it, Jesus offered a parable regarding a steward who cheated his master. When the master discovered this, he called in the man for an accounting after which he planned to fire him. The dishonest steward understood his predicament. Because he refused to dig ditches or beg, the steward took action. To insure his future, he went to his master’s debtors. He directed one to cut his debt by twenty percent and another to cut his debt by half. The steward’s newfound allies would see to his comfort when this ugly incident eventually led to his unemployment. During the final accounting, the master marveled at the efforts of the steward. The master wasn’t surprised that the man had found a way to save himself. In this parable, Jesus focused upon the creativity of the dishonest man. As I wondered what lesson could be found here, I wondered again. Was Jesus suggesting that the rest of us should be equally creative when it comes to doing good?

Last Sunday’s anniversary of 9-11 gives me much to consider in this regard. Most of us have vivid recollections of our whereabouts when we heard the news. The worst of my memories include the school half-full of military children where I worked. I cannot forget my fear as I considered that the nearby naval installation might be a subsequent target. How would we tell our students that their parents had perished? How would we help them all? At the same time, I recalled what happened here at Saint Paul’s the following weekend. I watched carefully as we gathered to pray. Our interactions with one another were somehow different. Was it my imagination or were young parents holding their babies a bit closer? Was it my imagination or were more children perched upon a parent’s knee than sat fidgeting at their sides? Was it my imagination or did couples hold hands long before and long after we recited the Lord’s Prayer? Was it my imagination or did those to whom I offered the Eucharist have an intense longing in their eyes, a longing I felt deeply with them?

In its most creative state, my imagination is incapable of conjuring images as wholesome and Godlike as those which unfolded before me in this church that weekend and for many weeks afterward. Indeed, our entire country responded as one people united to love our wounds away. Nothing nourishes the human spirit more than love graciously offered and love graciously received. The only antidote to haunting deeds of evil at its worst is love. If we are to conquer the horror which unfolded fifteen years ago and the evil which threatens today, we must mobilize without delay. I’ve often heard, “Pray as though everything depends upon God and work as though everything depends upon you.” Today, an alternative seems appropriate: Pray as though everything depends upon God, and love as though everything depends upon you because, indeed, it does.

Those who plotted the 9/11 attack and the many who have followed in their footsteps acted with unwavering conviction. Their commitment, though twisted and perverted, was unquestionable. Like the devious steward in today’s gospel, they did precisely what was necessary to achieve their goals. Our challenge is to counter evil in this world with equally passionate resolve. Like the determined forces who propagate hatred, we must be determined forces who extend love to all of God’s people. We must mobilize as individuals, families, neighborhoods, parishes, towns, a country and a world. We must teach our children and re-teach ourselves to love as completely as evildoers hate. Like the steward’s master, Jesus challenges us to take an accounting of the things we have been up to as of late. More importantly, Jesus asks that we are passionate and creative –like that steward– not in the ways of evil, but in the ways we find to love one another. Though my 9/11 reflection may be a week late, it’s never too late to commit ourselves to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved