Sunday, September 18, 2016

Non-Stick Pan

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Picture: cc Didriks

My dear friends, have you ever tried cooking with a stainless steel pan? If you have, then you’ll know that there is something you need to do to the pan before placing the raw food into it? Do you know what you need to do to the pan? Yes, you first need to add some cooking oil to it, and heat it up. Otherwise, the food will stick to the pan. And your dining experience will be ruined.

Don’t you find this interesting? A pan is made for the sole purpose of cooking food that can then be served to people to eat. And yet, left in its natural state, the pan tends to cling stubbornly to the food. Refusing to let it go. So that, in order to fulfil its purpose, the pan must first be treated. Either with hot oil, or some synthetic non-stick material, like teflon. Something needs to come between the pan and the food. Otherwise the pan remains sticky. The food is ruined. And people go hungry.

But it’s not just frying pans that tend to be naturally sticky. We human beings do too, don’t we? We tend to cling stubbornly to things that we are actually supposed to let go. And one of the things that we are especially prone to clinging to is money. Isn’t this what we find in our Mass readings today?

In the first reading, God accuses certain people of oppressing the poor and the needy. How do they do this? By cheating the poor of their hard-earned money. By charging more for less. By swindling and tampering with the scales. And they do this while making a show of observing the Jewish Law. Although they are careful to stop work on the Sabbath and other religious holidays, they can’t wait till the feast is over, so they can continue to cheat and oppress the poor.

And it’s not difficult to guess why they do this. The reason is simply greed. The tendency to cling to things. Especially to money. Money that is meant not just for themselves. But also for others. Not unlike a sticky stainless steel frying pan, greedy people cling to things that they are supposed to serve to others. As a result, food is ruined. And people go hungry.

But that’s not all. Greedy people don’t just end up victimising others. Whether they realise it or not, they also damage themselves. Like a sticky frying pan, they fail to fulfil the purpose for which they were created. Isn’t this what Jesus teaches us in the gospel parable?

Why is the dishonest steward commended by his master? Not for his dishonesty. That is, of course, wrong. But for his astuteness. For his willingness to let go of money when it’s the right time to do so. For his ability to use money to win friends. So as to secure his future. This is what an astute child of the world knows how to do. To make a short-term loss, in order to secure a long-term gain. This is also what Jesus expects the children of light to be able to do. With one crucial difference.

For the dishonest steward, as well as the other children of the world, making friends means networking with rich and powerful people. But, for the children of light, making friends means the exact opposite. It means doing what the responsorial psalm says God does. The image is striking. Although God is high above all nations, yet God stoops from the heights to look down. God lifts up the lowly from the dust, and raises up the poor from the dungheap.

What this tells us is that the poor are the friends of God. It is only by using money to make friends with the poor, that we, the children of light, are able to secure our future in the kingdom of God. Much like how a frying pan is made to cook and serve food for the hungry, we, the children of light, are called to expend our resources and even our very selves to help others. Especially those most in need. It is only by doing this that we attain our true purpose. For this is also what Jesus himself did. He who was rich made himself poor. So that we might be made rich out of his poverty (2 Cor 8:9).

And yet, to do this is not easy. For like an untreated frying pan we all have a natural tendency to be greedy. To cling to the things we are supposed to use to help others. And by clinging to them, we ruin not just others, but ourselves as well. What then must we do?

Again like any frying pan we need to allow something else to come between us and the things to which we cling. Not hot oil or teflon. But the love of God. The same God who, the second reading reminds us, wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. We need to coat ourselves with the steadfast love of our merciful God. How? By heeding the advice of St. Paul: first of all, there should be prayers offered for everyone… Prayers offered so that God might melt hearts hardened by greed. Allowing them to let go of the things to which they cling. The things that are meant for the benefit of others.

Something like this is also what we have just celebrated in the combined rite of acceptance and welcoming. In submitting themselves to this rite, our dear catechumens and candidates have expressed their commitment to continually allow themselves to be coated by the love of God. To let nothing come between them and that love. The love expressed so eloquently in the sign of the Cross of Christ. So that they may no longer cling to anything or to anyone apart from God.

And by witnessing their commitment, by accepting and welcoming them, we the rest of the worshipping community  at the parish of St. Ignatius, commit ourselves to supporting them. Especially with our prayers. But also by our example. So that, not just them, but indeed all of us, may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

My dear catechumens, candidates, brothers and sisters, delicious food is already sizzling in the frying pan. What must we do to keep serving it to those who need it most today?

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