The Ninth Sunday after Trinity
By W. J. Hankeyfrom COMMON PRAYER, Volume Six: Parochial
Homilies for the Eucharist Based on the Lectionary of the Book of Common
Prayer, 1962, Canada. (p. 117-120)
St. Peter Publications
Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada. Reprinted with permission of
Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness;
and when it fails you, they will receive you into everlasting habitations.
Those who enjoy working out solutions to complicated puzzles will be attracted
by the Collect, Epistle and Gospel set for today. They are connected by
a single leading idea, and once this is discovered the apparent complexity
dissolves along simple lines. The key to the puzzle is supplied by St.
Augustine, whose theology strongly influenced those who put together our
liturgy. St. Augustine said that all Scripture had as its goal the correction
of our love. Our love, our charity, is the spiritual gift which endures
forever and is that by which we are joined to God now and in heaven. Our
love is made right only when we learn to love God first and foremost, with
all our heart, soul, mind and strength, as the good to be loved and enjoyed
entirely for his own sake. We then come to love all else as the means to
the true love and complete enjoyment of God. Correcting our love is a matter
of learning how much to love each good thing. The key is to love God as
the perfect goal and end, and then to love all else as means. The result
is that we love God first and then our neighbour in God. According to St.
Augustine, this is the interpretive formula which will unlock the complexity
of Scripture. Indeed when it is used, today’s Gospel becomes plain.
The Gospel story does surprise us. Jesus seems to be commending the actions
of an unjust steward, or in plain contemporary language, a crooked manager.
The fellow had been a bad manager: he was wasting” his master’s goods and
so the master, the owner, resolved to fire him. The steward is distressed
because he was used to his exalted position and his soft life: “I cannot
dig, to beg I am ashamed.” So he determines on a plan which would secure
his future. He calls each of his master’s debtors, all the people who owe
him money, and he discounts a portion of their bill:
How much owest thou to my master? And he said, An hundred
measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill and Sit down quickly
and write fifty.
So he makes himself friends by giving away the owner’s money. After the
steward was fired, the grateful debtors took him in. They received him
unto their houses and he was saved both from beggary and from work.
Jesus gives praise to this wicked man for his prudence. That is to say,
for his knowledge of how to use means to get what he wanted in the end.
And his master praised the unrighteous steward, because
he had acted with prudence: for the children of this age are in their generation
more prudent than the children of light.
That is to say, those who are successful in this present world, in respect
to the things of this world, are successful because they know how to use
the means at their disposal to gain their ends. They are good at shaping
the means to their ends. Now St. Augustine tells us this prudence is what
Scripture teaches through and through, from start to finish. Indeed, Jesus
concludes his parable by recommending that we learn prudence from the successful
of this world. The only qualification is that we must completely change
the terms, for we do not seek to be received into homes here on earth,
but into heavenly habitations. The treasure that we have to spend to such
an end is that of our heavenly father, the creator of all, of whose earthly
goods we are the stewards. Jesus concludes that we must shape every least
action to the great final end, that all we do here must be treated as a
Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness
(the goods of this world): and when it fails you they will receive you
into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful in that which is least
is faithful also in much; and he that is unrighteous in that which is least
is unrighteous also in much.
So our parable confirms that St. Augustine has given us the right key.
Interpreting Scripture is a matter of learning what is the true final end
and learning what are only means, so as to love each in true proportion.
The Epistle for today may be unlocked by the same key. It concerns the
relation of material things and spiritual things, means and ends, especially
in respect to the sacraments. First, St. Paul tells us that the people
of the old Israel were in a spiritual circumstance like our own:
they lived in the presence of God. Their passage through the Red Sea,
when the waters stood on either side of them, was like Baptism. Thus they
were received as God’s people. They “were all baptized unto Moses in the
cloud in the sea.” Moreover, the rock, struck by the rod of Moses to yield
water for drinking in the desert, and the manna, which fell by night so
that they might eat in the wilderness, were both signs. Both were signs
that they were God’s people, “the people of his pasture,” “the sheep of
his hand,” whom God would feed and for whom he would always care. But the
people of Israel did not discern this nor treat them as means of their life
with God. Rather they treated them as things to be enjoyed for their own
sakes and forgot God. “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up
to play.” The people saw nothing but the outer reality and behaved as if
it were the final reality. They tried to gather and save the manna, as
if they could have security in this world’s goods. God had commanded them
to save only enough for each day, promising that he would provide daily
bread,” but they demanded more. After bread they wanted meat, and so on.
Because they mistook the means as the end and sought the means instead
of God, their lusts made them idolaters. With respect to this matter, St.
Now these things were our examples, to the intent that we
should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters,
as some of them were.
And St. Paul goes on to tell us how to treat this blessed sacrament which
we are celebrating here this morning. It is of no use to us unless we here
discern the presence of the body and blood of Christ. The offering on our
altar of bread and wine makes present Christ’s heavenly intercession for
us and his sacrifice on the cross. Eating bread and drinking wine, we feed
upon the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion
of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion
of the body of Christ?
The bread and the wine are but means for us to be joined into and to enjoy
the love of God. The key is knowing what are the means and what is the
end we seek. God alone will finally satisfy and we must stop nowhere else.
God alone is the ruler and governor. Only by fixing our heart and mind,
our soul and strength, altogether upon him, only by loving him above all
and letting him as our end govern all that is between, shall we finally
arrive at our true enjoyment and perfect bliss. He must govern us all the
way in great things as well as in things small, and so we pray:
Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think
and do such things as be rightful; that we, who cannot do anything that
is good without thee, may be enabled to live according to thy will; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.