15 September 2016

'Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.' Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, c.1685
Mauritshuis, The Hague [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Luke 16:1-13 (or 10-13)  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)

[Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’  Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’  Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.]

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)

Woman Sewing, Van Gogh, Oct-Nov 1881, Etten
Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, Netherlands [Web Gallery of Art]

Three years ago while on vacation in Ireland I dropped by the house of Brian, a childhood friend in Dublin. Over coffee we chatted about many things, ranging from the current situation of the Church in Ireland to the days when we were growing up.

In the course of our conversation the small Jewish community in Dublin came up. It has never quite reached 4,000 in Ireland and the majority of the now fewer than 2,000 live in Dublin. I told Brian that my father, who spent all his working life as a carpenter on building/construction sites, most of those years as a highly respected general foreman, had built a house for a wealthy Jewish couple in the late 1950s. 

Our house was the one on the right, 44 Finn St, Dublin

Shortly after the house was finished a very expensive car stopped outside our house, in a street of terraced houses, exactly like those in the photo above, where nobody had a telephone and very few had cars. The driver knocked on our door and turned out to be the owner of the new house my father had built. He came to invite our family to dinner the following week in his new home. My father had helped build many new homes over the 54 years of his working life but this was the only occasion when he had been thanked in such a way.

We enjoyed the gracious hospitality of the family and it was the only time I ever visited a Jewish home in Ireland.

Brian then told me a story about his father Jimmy, whom I had known well, a house painter and decorator. He had painted and decorated the houses of many Jewish families in Dublin over the years. This was mainly due to an incident the first time he was asked to work in a Jewish home. While scraping the old paint from the stairs he found a diamond ring stuck in a corner. He immediately brought it to the owner and said 'I found this on the stairs'. 'I know', said the owner, 'I put it there!' 

The word spread through the Jewish community that Jimmy was trustworthy. Over the years he had many Jewish clients. 

Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.

Jewish Museum, Dublin [Wikipedia]

When I told the story of Jimmy and the diamond ring to my sister-in-law Gladys she told me that her engagement ring had been stolen while she and my brother Paddy were having renovations done to their home a few years ago.

I remember too how upset my father was when he was renovating a Georgian house in Dublin. He discovered that the knocker on the front door had disappeared and it could only have been one of his workmates who took it. He was unable to trace the knocker or find out who the thief was.

Whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

Georgian doors, Dublin [Wikipedia]

When I wrote these reflections three years ago the major story in the Philippines was the 'pork barrel scam'. PHP10 billion - roughly US$200,000,000 or €200,000,000 - of taxes paid by the people had disappeared. Some senators and members of Congress were alleged to have been beneficiaries of this along with others.

Today's gospel speaks to situations like this. Corruption on such a vast scale begins in the classroom when a child learns that though cheating isn't right the main thing is not to be caught. The man who stole my sister-in-law's engagement ring and my father's workmate who walked away with the valuable knocker from the front door of the Georgian house were earning salaries. What values were they passing on to their families?

One thing that both my parents instilled in me was that I must not keep anything that isn't mine. When I was a toddler I came home from a park up the road from where we lived at the time with a leather football. This was in the mid-1940s, around the time World War II ended when such things would have been very scarce and expensive. They asked around the neighbourhood and it was only when nobody claimed the ball that our family kept it.

Honesty and trustworthiness at such basic levels are  a foundation for justice. I've known of individuals 'working for justice' who weren't paying their own workers a proper wage. I've known many others such as my father, such as Jimmy, who didn't talk much about justice. They simply behaved in a just and honest manner and treated others with respect.

God invites every single one of us to share for ever in the riches of eternal life. Eternal life begins in the here and now. We make our choices in the here and now.

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Antiphona ad Communionem / Communion Antiphon (John 10:14)

Ego sum pastor bonus, dicit Dóminus;
et cognósco oves meas, et cognóscunt me meae.

I am the Good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me.

Engagement and wedding rings [Wikipedia]

I mentioned two diamond rings above. I couldn't find a painting with a diamond ring but Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring is a work of such extraordinary beauty that I used it instead.

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