• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

God, Money, Things?

“Why didn’t I do more?”

In the film, Schindler’s List, we learn about an ordinary man who became a hero. Oskar Schindler moved to Krakow, Poland, soon after the Germans occupied the country. He was a businessman with great ambitions. Being the shrewd fellow that he was, Schindler saw an opportunity in the war to finance an industry. The Jews had been forced to live in Ghettos. Where else could you get such cheap and dispensable labor? On their backs, he started an ammunitions factory.

But as the film goes on, you begin to see a change in Schindler’s heart. Little by little, he discovered the humanity of the Jews, as well as the atrocities of the Nazi party. On one occasion, he heard about a train transporting thousands of men and women to Auschwitz. He called up the lieutenant colonel, Rudolf Höss, and bribed him with a bag of diamonds for their release. That was just the beginning. The more money he acquired, the more Jews he could buy. One by one, through manipulation, bribery, and guile, Schindler purchased as many Jews as he could and sheltered them in his factory. Under his protection, he offered a refuge to thousands, and all the while, they secretly sabotaged the ammunition that would cripple the Nazi army.

When at last the Germans surrendered, Schindler announced to the Jews that by midnight they would go free. This is one of the most emotional scenes in cinematography. While he embraced so many that he had grown to love, he began to weep. “I could have done more,” he cried. He looked at his car and asked, “Why did I save this? I could have bought 10 Jews with it.” He grabbed another possession and cried, “This would have saved another one. Why didn’t I do more?”

In our Gospel, today, Christ tells his disciples about a rich man who had a manager. “Charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned [the manager] and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’” The manager was caught, but he was very shrewd. He asked himself what he could do then. He was no good at manual labor. He was ashamed to beg. So he came up with a scheme to recover the lost money. “Summoning his master’s debtors one by one, [the manager] asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ The manager responded, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ The man replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ So the manager said, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ Little by little, this sneaky manager gathered the sums he needed. When he brought them to the master, the master was pleased and commended the manager for his thriftiness.

Jesus Christ finishes this rather bizarre parable in this way, “The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:1-9).

Somehow, no matter how many times you read this parable, you always end up wondering what just happened. Did Jesus really say that?

The manager, in the story, is a bit of a rascal. But it’s clear. Jesus is commending him. In fact, our Lord sets him as an example for us Christians, and indeed, he’s a very good example.

Have you ever noticed how shrewd people in the world can be?

Just read the bio of anyone successful. Since the Dallas Cowboys were founded in 1960, eleven of their players have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The linebacker, Charles Haley, was the most recent. Neither he nor any of them got there by sitting around and twiddling their thumbs. It took hard work, consistency, and determination.

Just a couple weeks ago, the Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, became the richest person in the world, having a fortune now of 90.6 billion dollars. This is the fruit of a lifetime of networking and ingenuity.

Now, somehow, it feels impious to mention these secular names in a sermon during the Mass…but isn’t this exactly what Jesus Christ has done?

He’s telling his disciples to look out into the world. It’s full of people willing to do anything and make any sacrifice for money, power, and fame.

And here’s the point.

How much are we willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom of Heaven?

Out of curiosity, I looked up the price for tickets to the 2018 Super Bowl. There are seats going for $9,500. People are willing to pay that! What are we willing to pay to go to Church on Sundays and Feast Days and to share every part of our lives with God. Why is it hard getting up on Sunday mornings or finishing up dinner with a prayer service? I get it. We’re all in the same boat. But this is something that we have to look at very seriously, with great honesty and courage, never pointing fingers at others, but merely looking within our own hearts at our own priorities.

Students in college sometimes stay up all night studying for a test, all to get a better grade or to be accepted to a prestigious university. Are we, Christians, as equally motived to attend a midnight vigil or to say our morning and evening prayers, which have consequences that last for eternity?

Supermodels starve their bodies and live on broccoli all so that they can have their image put on a one-time magazine. Are we willing to abstain from meat on Fridays and fast throughout Advent and Lent, with the hope that we can give over our wills to God’s will, and open up our hearts to His Grace.

In the book of Acts, we read about the early Christians who sold all their possessions in order to fund the Church. My confessor once told me that when he was a boy, growing up in a Southern Baptist parish, several members of the congregation would give up eating once a week, simply so that they could pay their 10% tithe on Sunday. Meanwhile, “tithing” has become an ugly word in the 21st century. For so many years now, we Americans have gotten comfortable with our Christianity, myself included. We take church for granted and assume that it’ll keep running on its own. The reality is, religion comes at a great cost.

It isn’t easy. I remember when I first got in the habit of tithing my monthly check. It hurt. It felt a bit like my arm was being cut off each time. But I soon realized something. If I wasn’t willing to give God 10% of my income (which in the end, matters so little compared to everything else), then I certainly wasn’t willing to give God 10% of my heart and soul. I discovered in my own self, that the only thing keeping me from tithing was my priorities. In my heart, God, and Church, were worth maybe 1% of my livelihood, but no more. A priest once told me that the Bible sets 10% as a goal, because it’s the minimum we have to give to really ingrain in our hearts what life is all about. “Where your treasure is, there will also be your heart” (Matthew 6:21).

It isn’t easy, and we have to start somewhere. If 10% is too much, then maybe we can bump up 1% to 2%. We have to start somewhere and always with our eyes on the goal, to love and worship God with everything that we’ve got.

“The people of this world,” Christ tells us, “are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.’

So, the first thing we learn in our parable today is to look around at the worldly people, and to aspire after their zealousness. You can see what fervor people have to get temporary wealth. Isn’t it smarter to use that same energy and zeal to invest towards eternal wealth?

Christ ends the parable in this way.

“I tell you,” Christ says, “use worldly wealth…[that] you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).

We can’t separate Christ from any part of our lives, even the parts that seem unclean and un-spiritual. The shrewd steward is a testimony to that. He looked at the situation around him, however messed up, and he did the best he could with it. Oskar Schindler did the same. When his eyes opened to the reality before him, he could very easily have despaired. His money was filthy beyond any doubt. His livelihood was built on a system both corrupt and inhumane. But what did he do? He used that “worldly wealth,” every penny of it, to save the lives of thousands.

Do you know what is one of the biggest mistakes we can make as Christians? It’s to think that Christianity is about spirituality…

Christianity has very little to do with spirituality. Christianity has everything to do with LIFE.

It’s really cool, nowadays, to talk about the “spiritual realm.” Among the bestsellers at amazon.com and the newest editions in airport bookstands, there’s no end to paperbacks on inner spirituality. We like to think of spiritual matters the way one cooks with spice. Put a couple dashes in your daily soup and ‘Viola! The balanced lifestyle.’ But Jesus Christ didn’t die on the cross so that we could have a little spirituality in our lives. He died on the cross and rose from the dead so that we might unite our entire lives to Him. “Whether you eat or drink,” St. Paul preaches, “or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our hearts, our souls, our minds and bodies, everything that makes you who you are, everything that determines the way you go about your day, all your decisions and all your aspirations, the way you balance your check book, the posts you make on Facebook, your attitude when you take out the trash, and even the way you interact with the cashier at the grocery story…this is true religion. This is what Christianity is about. It is a Life saturated in Christ.

How do we know this?

God Himself tells us.

“My Son, give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways” (Proverbs 23:26).

“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4).

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).

You know, it’s hard for me to preach on these things, because I can see my own shortcomings and failings. I’m as lazy as anyone, when it comes to really walking this out. So please don’t take this as a reprimand or become discouraged. This is our goal; our end. God is merciful and we are all in process. The key is to keep our minds on that goal. We can’t settle for less. We can’t afford to settle for less.

Think of Oskar Schindler. On that day when the Jews he’d protected were all set free, what did he realize? He asked himself weeping, “Why didn’t I do more?”

On a final note, this calls to mind one of the most beautiful images in the Chronicles of Narnia. In the first book, the Magician’s Nephew, the characters Digory, Polly, the White Witch and the cab driver find themselves transported to the very creation of a world called Narnia. While standing there in utter darkness a voice starts singing around them, the very incarnation of beauty and sublimity, and this music weaves together the stars and universe. The cab driver, entranced by this beauty, stands convicted. “Glory be! I’d ha’ been a better man all my life if I’d known there were things like this!”

How will it be for us, on the Judgment Day, when our lives are revealed before our eyes, our good deeds and bad deeds are weighed together, and the doors to paradise lie open just before us? When we look at the beauty of God, face to face, and at all that He’s prepared for us, will we also say, “If only I had done more”?

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen

Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

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