The Abolition of False Dichotomies
I. "Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings" (Luke 16:9).
Michael Corleone is standing as godfather for his nephew. The baby is wrapped in linen. The family stands reverently around the baptismal font. The incense rises in the cathedral. The priest performs the sacred ritual. Then the camera switches to a different scene. Corleone’s mob is arming itself. After calculated planning, the hour has struck to stamp out the rival gang. The camera switches to the church. The priest asks the godfather: “Do you reject the glamour of evil?” “I do.” “Do you reject Satan and all his works?” “I do.” Outside, the killing spree begins, concisely and ruthlessly.
This scene from the 1972 film, “The Godfather,” is famous because it captures a reality of the human heart: we segregate faith from life.
II. Whoever we are and whatever we have belongs to God.
The hypocrisy is clear in the film. It’s easy to see duplicity in the godfather, or in politicians, or pastors arrested for embezzling. Yet, it’s more important to look closer in our own hearts – to see where we too, in our common, ordinary lives, create a dichotomy between faith and life.
The scriptures talk about a “double-minded man” and a person who pays lip service to God but ignores Him in his heart. But the Gospel takes it even farther than that. St. Paul preaches, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). The very incarnation of Jesus Christ meant the abolition of our false dichotomies. God became flesh. He united the infinite and divine with skin and bones, childhood, family, eating and sleeping. He sanctified everything human. This means that we encounter God in our humanity.
III. Our greatest enemy in modern times is not atheism. Our greatest enemy is secularism.
In his book, Everywhere Present, Fr. Stephen Freeman defines secularism in this way: “Secularism is the compartmentalization of God and religion, and everything else, into autonomous and unrelated parts of our lives. Secularism does not deny that God exists, but rather states that He has His place and does not necessarily affect other areas of our lives.” What is the purpose of being Christian? “To integrate our lives and our consciousness by the awareness of God, to overcome the compartmentalization dictated by our culture, and to sanctify all creation by the remembrance of God, awareness of His Presence…[To become] free to stand before the infinite abyss of the Mystery of God in silence.” All this can sound a little intellectual, but it’s very simple.
We don’t live in a two-story universe, with God up there and us down here. We live in a one-story universe and we have to live that way.
IV. Let’s look at our scripture today.
Jesus Christ tells a parable. “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” 3Then 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. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” 6He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” 7Then 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.” 8And 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. 9And 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).
You have to flesh out the context of this parable to understand it. In verse eight, it says the “master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” Sure enough, the word ‘dishonest’ is adikias in Greek: ‘unrighteous.’ In our capitalistic society today, it’s hard to imagine how scandalized the Jews would have been with this manager. Lending money, in any form, was forbidden. This manager would have been despised in Jewish company. Yet, he’s commended here for being shrewd: fronimws; tricky like a serpent. Jesus Christ is telling this story, and He doesn’t end by saying, “don’t be that guy.” On the contrary, he says, “The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light…Use worldly wealth…[to be] welcomed into eternal dwellings” (8-9).
As bizarre as this passage reads, it gets to something very profound. Worldly people will go out of their way to build up their stash down here. We Christians can learn something from that. How much more earnest should we be to build up our treasure in heaven? Bankers, lawyers, professionals in any career, will lose hours of sleep and work to their own harm to beat their competition. God gives us that energy. He gives us strength and determination. We only need to direct that energy to the right place. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 19:13).
V. There’s a further message in the scriptures.
Jesus tells us: “Use worldly wealth…[to be] welcomed into eternal dwellings” (8-9). I have to confess I am personally very uncomfortable talking about money. It’s always a comfort discussing this with other priests, because most priests are uncomfortable discussing money. Somehow it feels impure and impious in religion. But the Holy Scriptures are not shy about money, and Jesus Christ certainly wasn’t. The reason is, the way we spend our money is inherently spiritual. It is an indicator of the state of the heart. It is also fuel for awakening the heart. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
You don’t own anything that is yours by right. Everything that we have is a gift given us to serve God and one another.
St. Paul instructs Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God…Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age” (I Tim. 6:17-19).
The message in our Lord’s parable doesn’t stop with money. This is about our entire attitude towards life. Everything we are and everything we have belongs to God. It was given to us for a short time so that we could use it to serve Him, and in serving Him, He gives us everything back ten-fold.
VI. We can’t be like Don Corleone.
We can’t waist our lives by being double-minded: with our faith over here and our life over there. It’s a one-story universe.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.