Sunday, September 22, 2013

Wise Sacrifices That Win Friends

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Picture: cc samborowski

Sisters and brothers, have you heard of Miley Cyrus? I’m sure you have. She is a young singer and actress, who recently made the news in a big way. But for all the wrong reasons. Or so it seems. As you know, some weeks ago, Miley performed live at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. During her performance, she stripped down to her underwear. That’s right. Bra and panties. And then, dressed in this very provocative manner, Miley proceeded to execute some highly suggestive–some would say shameful–dance moves. Which I will not describe to you here. Partly because I’m not sure I can find the right words to do it. And also partly because I’m afraid you will report me to the Archbishop. Anyway, Miley followed that live performance with the release of her latest music video. Where she sings and dances not just in her underwear, but also in her birthday suit.

As might be expected, the girl has been heavily criticised for all this. Her reputation has taken a terrible beating. People have been calling her a slut. Some even say that she has gone crazy. But what do you think, sisters and brothers? Has Miley Cyrus really gone crazy? Or is there maybe another reason for her actions? A method to her madness? Consider the amount of publicity she has enjoyed since her controversial performance. People can’t seem to stop talking about her. Not only that. Her song has actually risen to the top of the music charts. Although Miley’s reputation may have gone down the tubes, her popularity has shot through the roof. All of which might help us to understand a little better what’s actually going on. It’s very likely that Miley hasn’t gone crazy at all. No. What she has done is boost her singing career in a spectacular fashion. It’s very likely that all this is part of a very clever, very well-planned, marketing strategy. Miley knows that in the music business–actually in any business–sex sells. So she has willingly sacrificed her reputation in a calculated move to win more fans for herself. And she has succeeded. In a very big way.

Sacrificing something that you value less, for the sake of gaining something that you value more. This is what Miley Cyrus has done. And isn’t this also very much like what Jesus is talking about in the gospel today? Isn’t this what the dishonest steward does in Jesus’ parable? His boss has just fired him. He needs to find a new job. The steward needs to make new friends. Just like a singer needs to get new fans. So what does he do to increase his own popularity? He gives away what every business person wants. A discount. How much do you owe my master? One hundred measures of oil? OK, here’s the contract. Change the amount to fifty. One hundred measures of wheat? Change it to eighty. We’re not sure whose money the steward is using to give these discounts. Maybe it’s his boss’s. Maybe it’s his own commission. That’s not so important. What’s more important is that, like Miley Cyrus, the dishonest steward is able and willing to sacrifice something less valuable to himself–in this case, money–in order to gain something more precious–prospective employers. People able to give him what he needs most. A new job.

Sacrificing money to win friends. This is what the steward is doing. And this is also what Jesus is inviting us to do. But in a good way, of course. Use money, Jesus says, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity. What is Jesus talking about? What kind of friends does he mean? Not any ordinary kind. Not just those who can give us a new job. But, more importantly, those who can give us an eternal home. Friends who can help us to get into heaven. Who are these people? We find the answer in our other scripture readings for today.

In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us of the one Person, the one Friend, who alone has the power to get us into heaven. God our saviour, Paul writes, wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. So God is the Saviour. God is the divine Friend that we all need to win over if we want to be welcomed into the tents of eternity. But how to use money to do this? Surely God doesn’t owe us anything. So how can we give God a discount? How to use money to win God over to our side? To make God our friend?

The answer is found in both the first reading and the responsorial psalm. Although it is true that God has no favourites. God wants everyone to be saved. The first reading tells us that God does have special friends. According to the prophet Amos, God chooses to take the side of the poor. Especially those who have been victimised and cheated in some way. God chooses to take the side of the oppressed, against their oppressors. To the people who cheat and steal from the poor, God says: Never will I forget a single thing you have done. Not only that. The psalm tells us that from the dust God lifts up the lowly, from the dungheap he raises the poor. Business people may value discounts. But God values the lives of the poor. God chooses to befriend the oppressed. To take their side at all times.

If this is true, then the message to us becomes very clear. If we wish to get to heaven, we need to make friends with God. And one effective way to make friends with God–the way that Jesus is teaching us in the gospel–is simply to use money to befriend the poor. To do with money something like what Miley Cyrus has done with her own good name. Sacrifice something less valuable in order to gain something more precious. Use our money, as far as we can, to make friends with those around us who most need our help. Sacrifice our material possessions in order to gain ourselves an eternal home.

But this is not always easy to do. How many of us can say that we use our money in this way. To help the poor. Or don’t we often, instead, use our money to buy things we don’t really need? If Miley Cyrus is able to sacrifice her own good name to get more fans, it is because she values fame more highly than her own reputation. In the same way, we can only do what Jesus is asking of us, if we truly value friendship with God more highly than money. As Jesus says in the gospel, you cannot be the slave both of God and of money. But how are we to become the slaves of God? When so many of us have to continue to work hard everyday, trying to make a living for ourselves and our families? There is one way, sisters and brothers. Just as we cannot make ordinary friends without sincere communication. We cannot befriend God without deep prayer. But how many of us really know how to pray?

Which brings us to the reason why I am here today. My name is Christopher Soh. And I’m a Jesuit priest from St. Ignatius Church. I’ve come here, together with a group of friends from the Sojourners’ Companions, to promote the Week of Guided Prayer. This is a special programme that teaches people how to pray more deeply. Every participant in this Week of Guided Prayer will receive individual guidance from a trained prayer guide in some very helpful prayer methods taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the patron saint of all spiritual exercises. What we are offering you, sisters and brothers, is a precious opportunity to deepen your friendship with God. For God is our life. And, as Jesus tells us in the gospels, what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? (Mt 16:26) So I encourage you to visit us at our table after Mass to find out more.

My dear sisters and brothers, it’s quite clear that, for Miley Cyrus, popularity is more valuable than her good name. Such that she’s willing to sacrifice one for the other. But what about us? How willing are we to sacrifice our money, our time, our energy, to gain not just popularity on earth, but an eternal home in heaven? Sisters and brothers, what are you willing to do to deepen your friendship with God today?


  1. "–actually in any business–sex sells"

    Is this a statement of fact, general statement, or your perception?

    Rev Pastor Christopher Soh, Jesuit priest from St. Ignatius Church,

    Yes, we all read about people who had done it, high profile civil servants, in churches, even amongst priests (priest driving 17 year old girl to Mount Faber)! 'Calculated risk' , wise decision? There are many business owners, Sales and Marketing professionals who hold high integrity making modest income, not 'filthy rich' nor paupers but definitely NOT "cheap sluts" or "cheap charlies"! Please do not implicate that these people..

    Anonymous Non Christian

  2. Dear Anonymous Non-Christian,

    maybe you would like to read this entire homily again?

    what do you see - is it the forest or just the trees or a single shrub?

  3. As in all friendships, our friendship with God needs to be nurtured.

    God has found it worthwhile to live and die for each of us - do we find it worthwhile to spend quality time in the Lord?

    Lord, teach us to grow in faith - and to become our true selves, teach us to be the person whom You had called us to be.

    Lord, may YOU INCRESE as i decrease. Amen.


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