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Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C
How many of you have ever ridden on a train or seen a train going down the track? (Let kids respond.) Once a train is going in one direction, it’s hard to turn that train around and make it go in another direction. Why do you think that’s true? (Discuss.) A train runs on a track, and once it has started out in a certain direction, it usually continues in that direction. It’s even hard to slow a train down once it picks up speed.
Let’s pretend we’re all standing on the platform at a train station. We’re getting ready to take a trip and there are two trains waiting at the station. One train is brand new and very fancy. It is painted with gold and silver paint and the seats are red velvet. The dining car is full of delicious food from the fanciest restaurants. The sleeping car has feather beds with satin sheets. This train has a big sign on it that reads, “MONEY.” In order to ride this train, you don’t have to have lots of money; you just have to agree that money is more important than anything in the world.
The other train waiting at the station is going in the exact opposite direction. It is an older train, very plain looking. It hasn’t been painted for quite some time. The seats are made of wood and they don’t look very comfortable. The dining car has enough food—healthy, good food—but it’s not at all fancy. The sleeping car is small with few beds, and people have to take turns sleeping and sitting. The beds have thin mattresses and blankets that are warm but very plain. This train has a large sign hanging on it too. In large, plain letters, the sign reads, “GOD.” In order to ride this train, you don’t have to be rich or poor, but you have to believe that God is the most important thing in life and that money is supposed to be used to help others.
As we look around, we see that lots of people are boarding the fancy train and laughing at the few people who decide to ride the plain train. You just happen to notice a large map hanging on the wall of the station that clearly shows where each train is going to end up. You notice that the “Money” train goes along an easy, flat track, then heads downhill. The track disappears at the end of a cliff. The “God” train heads up into the mountains into rugged land but ends at a beautiful place marked, “Heaven.”
You look at both trains once again. And then in your imagination you get on a train. Sometime today I want you to tell someone which train you chose to get on and why you picked the train you did
“I’ve got a bridge you can buy.” That expression came from the antics of George C. Parker who 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.
All three of today’s readings deal with justice
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! Amos talks about the way the rich exploit ordinary folks—this back in the ancient days of Israel. So we know exploitation has gone on as long as there have been human beings. Where is justice, says God? Can you put as much energy into caring for the little people as you do caring for your pocketbooks?
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.
We see another image of justice in the second reading. God’s justice for humankind. God wills all human beings to be saved. So believers cannot look at faith as something only for themselves, or their own salvation. Pray for everyone. Pray for civic leaders. There is a Jewish notion that the leader/king is a corporate personality. If the King is good the people are blessed. If the king is bad there is war and taxes. If the king is good there is peace. So pray for the king that we may have peace. So remember to say a prayer for President Trump. Pray that the one mediator of all of humankind, Jesus Christ, can touch the hearts of all, whether they know it or not, and in this way bring God’s justice to the earth.
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. Jesus wants his followers outraged at the absence of justice, of peace, of grace, of love. He comes as our mediator to bring us precisely these human and spiritual basics. He asks us to carry on in his work.
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.
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. Apologies for Msgr Pellegrino for my changes.