Sunday, September 22, 2019

Solving Spiritual Stickiness (Rerun)

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

My dear friends, have you ever tried cooking with a stainless steel frying pan? If you have, then you'll know that there is something you need to do to the pan before putting the food in it. Do you know what you need to do? Yes, you first need to heat up some cooking oil in it. Some people also recommend cooking some green onions in the pan first. Otherwise, the food will stick to the pan, and the dish will be ruined.

It’s quite interesting, isn’t it? A pan is made for the single purpose of cooking food to feed people. And yet, left on its own, the pan tends to cling stubbornly to the food, refusing to let it go. In order to fulfil its purpose, the pan must first be coated with hot oil or with some synthetic material, like teflon. In other words, something needs to come between the pan and the food. Otherwise the pan remains sticky, the food is ruined, and people end up going hungry.

But it’s not just frying pans that are naturally sticky. We human beings can be sticky too, right? We too tend to cling stubbornly to things that we are supposed to let go. And one of the things that many of us are prone to cling 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, by cheating them 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 being pious. Much like how we may come for Mass every Sunday, the swindlers in the first reading take care to keep the  Sabbath. But their external religious observance doesn’t change them at all. Once the Sabbath is over, they quickly continue to cheat the poor!

And there are no prizes for guessing why they do this. The reason is simple. They are greedy. They cling to money. Money that is meant not to make them rich, but to enable others to survive. Much like a sticky frying pan, greedy people cling to things that they are supposed to serve to others. As a result, the food is ruined, and people go hungry.

But that’s not all. Whether they realise it or not, greedy people don’t just harm others, they also damage themselves. For, like a sticky frying pan, greedy people fail to fulfil the purpose for which they are created. To do that, they need to change. They have to stop being greedy. They have to learn to let go. Isn’t this what Jesus is teaching us in the gospel?

Why is the dishonest steward praised by his master? Not for his dishonesty, of course. But for his astuteness. For his willingness to let go of money when the time is right to do so. For his ability to use money to win friends, in order to secure his own future. This is what an astute child of the world must know how to do to survive. To suffer a short-term loss, in order to secure a long-term gain. And this is what Jesus wants the children of light to learn as well. To be astute like the dishonest steward. To learn to let go of money. To use money, and not to be used by it. But with one crucial difference.

Like the dishonest steward, the children of the world make friends by networking with the rich and the powerful. But we children of light are called to do the exact opposite. For us, to make friends is to do what God does in the responsorial psalm. The image described here is very striking. Although God is high above all nations, yet God stoops from the heights to look down. And not just to look down, God also carefully and compassionately lifts up the lowly from the dust, and raises up the poor from the dungheap.

What this shows us is that it is not the rich and powerful who are the friends of God, but the poor and the powerless. So that, in order to secure our future in the kingdom of God, we need to make friends with the poor. Much like how a frying pan is made to cook and serve food for the hungry, we children of light are called to use our resources, our gifts and talents, to serve those most in need. It is only by doing this that we attain our true purpose as followers of Christ. For this is what Jesus himself came to do. Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich (see 2 Cor 8:9).

And yet, we know that to do this is not easy for us. Like a frying pan, we all have a natural tendency to be sticky. To cling to the things that are meant for others. And, by doing this, we cause harm not just to others, but to ourselves as well. So what  can we do to become less greedy, less sticky?

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 whom the second reading says wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. We need to allow ourselves to be coated by the steadfast love of our merciful God. How? One way is by heeding the advice of Paul: first of all, there should be prayers offered for everyone… Prayers that God might lubricate all hearts made sticky by greed. So that they may let go of the things to which they often cling so tightly. To let go and to share with those who need them more.

But that’s not all. For we know very well that people need more than just money and material things, important though these may be. In faith, we believe that what everyone needs most of all is to experience God’s love for them in Christ. And, as Christians, we also believe that this same love has been entrusted to us. We are stewards of God’s love. Called to share it with those who are hungry for it, often without even realising what they are hungry for. These people are, in a sense, poor too. And they are the ones we are called to feed with the Word of God and the Bread of Life. They are the ones to whom we need to proclaim the Good News.

But, in order for us to do this, we must again be willing to let go. To let go of our complacency and our apathy, our insecurity and our anxiety. To allow ourselves to be coated by the great Mystery that we celebrate at this and at every Mass. The merciful love of God poured out for us on the Cross.

Sisters and brothers, in Christ, God has prepared for all people delicious food that’s already sizzling in the pan. What must we do to keep generously and courageously serving this life-giving dish to those who need it most today?

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