Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I am no politician. In fact, I detest the ways of partisan politics and the toxicity it injects into everything it touches. Yet we must all wade into politics to participate in the human drama. I much rather prefer the term diplomacy to intentionally include some measure of natural and spiritual wisdom and skill in dealing with different kinds of people, although most times I think a diplomat is nothing more than a politician in sheep’s clothing. Ultimately, interaction with all kinds of people requires a healthy measure of understanding of their individual differences, a deep respect for that diversity, and for each person’s right to make up their own mind and determine their own response. Diplomacy is the art of winning the trust of others, of persuading them to sincerely consider your perspective, and of employing that trust to act upon specific objectives consistent with beliefs and values shared in common. It takes some skill and natural talent, of which some possess more than others. But we use much the same skills each time we share ideas or interact in any relevant way with one another on many levels, as when a child attempts to persuade mom to make pancakes so he doesn’t have to eat cold cereal, or when a student attempts to avoid punishment for not doing some assigned task, or when a person dodges the scrutiny of their peers by caving in to pressure and blending in with the crowd, or when teenagers attempt to convince their parents they need a specific brand of merchandise, or when you try to sweet talk your way out of a speeding ticket, or when parents argue with their children about coming to church, or when we call on God for mercy, healing, and peace of mind.
Today’s gospel reading tells us that we are sitting on a gold mine. From time immemorial women and men have used such skills of personal interaction, persuasion, deception, and negotiation to further their short-sighted selfish material ends. But with these same talents immense good can also be accomplished if they are directed toward more noble purposes. The question to ask is why are we slower to use these very same talents and skills for the good of God’s kingdom?
Why is it that we who proclaim allegiance to the God and Father of Jesus Christ, who profess undying loyalty to the gospel and its values are seldom as eager and determined to employ knowledge and skill for the advance of the Kingdom of God? Materialistic people seem more enthused, more convinced, and more willing to extend themselves, to set aside personal comfort and profit, even to put their values on the line for the sake of narrow, inconsequential, and self-seeking goals. Why can’t disciples of Jesus Christ show the same fearlessness, determination, and wit? There appears to be no lack of recruits for the forces of hate, death, injustice, inequality, moral depravity, dishonesty, and unbelief. But we scrape the barrel to find a similar level of support for forgiveness, life, justice, equality, moral integrity, truth, and faith … even and especially among people who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We need to be even more shrewd, more creative, more intentional about pursuing the demands of the kingdom of God. Politics can be a good thing. It all comes down to who’s bankrolling the effort.
In our secular society we value the separation of church and state. People start squirming in their seats when politicians invoke religious imagery or when religious leaders lend their bully pulpits to partisan politics. Yet each must walk alongside the other since we are citizens of this earthly nation as we are citizens of God’s kingdom. And therein lies the challenge. When Jesus praised the steward in today’s parable, he was commending him for wisely applying certain skills that were useful while under his employer’s charge to ensure his survival once released from service. He may have to endure some personal loss like reduced pay or prestige. But his survival after being let go appeared to be a much higher priority. Despite juggling conflicting goals, he was confident he would land on his feet. Such shrewd diplomacy is a very desirable quality in a disciple of Jesus Christ. For while we are subjects of the one true God, we are also material participants in the unfolding human drama. We need to order our priorities right. Whom do we choose to serve above all? We cannot be torn between two equal loyalties. When push comes to shove our top priority must rise above all the others.
The danger lies in publicly pledging unwavering loyalty and dedication to one temporal priority while vowing absolute opposition to another. History shows us how extreme loyalties fare—from the godlessness of atheistic totalitarianism to the fanaticism of radical religious fundamentalism, both temporal priorities demanding absolute allegiance. While we live in two distinct societies, one material, the other spiritual, we encounter some tension between opposing priorities. Wisdom lies in delicately walking a tightrope in pursuit of good for the kingdom of God while resisting the urge to alienate people of goodwill. In the age of persecution long ago, the church could not afford to be intentionally confrontational. Rather, the Christian faith labored to be perceived as mainstream and beneficial to secular society. This permitted the gospel to be preached far and wide drawing many to embrace the faith and sinners to be reconciled with God and works of mercy to flourish so the poor would not be neglected and the hungry and those who suffered would find relief. The kingdom of God could use more creative and talented entrepreneurs and wise and savvy diplomats. Are our priorities consistent with those of God’s Kingdom? Are we confident about who’s ultimately bankrolling our efforts? Still, we cannot burn our bridges. Instead, we need to plan and choose our battles wisely just so we can return to fight another day.
Rolo B Castillo © 2022