Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, "When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat." The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord!
May the name of the Lord be blessed
both now and for evermore! (R./)
High above all nations is the Lord,
above the heavens his glory.
Who is like the Lord, our God,
who has risen on high to his throne
yet stoops from the heights to look down,
to look down upon heaven and earth? (R./)
From the dust he lifts up the lowly,
from the dungheap he raises the poor
to set him in the company of princes,
yes, with the princes of his people. (R./)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all-this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;
[ or, shorter version: 16:10-13]
Jesus said to the disciples,
"There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' Then the manager said to himself, 'What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'
So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?' He replied, 'A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill and make it eighty.'
And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?
No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
When I was at school, we were asked to write an essay on "The adventures of a pound note." Nowadays it would be the history of a fifty-euro note. The average banknote has a life-span of just over twelve months, they say. After passing through many hands, they are recalled and incinerated. It would be fascinating to follow it from the moment the new banknote comes fresh and crisp off the mint until its burning in the incinerator, some twelve months later. Every crease, every stain on it, would have its own tale to tell. It had passed through wallets and purses, pockets and handbags; God only knows where it has been and what it was been spent. It has its joyful mysteries and its sorrowful mysteries. It might even have its glorious moments. It may have been used to buy a fix of heroin or cocaine, or to bribe someone to secure a contract. It could have been picked from a pensioner's pocket. It could as easily have bought medicine for a sick child or education for someone from a deprived background. It could have been an anonymous donation to a worthy cause. It could have been a poor person's gift to someone worse off than themselves. It could have been to the Third World and fed a whole family there for a week.
Many worry about devaluation. They complain about their shrinking purchasing power and recall what money could buy when they were young. But in a sense money is only devalued by the use we make of it. "Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends," said Jesus, "and when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity." The rich can be casual about money, but in tenements and shanty-towns around the world, even the price of a meal can be a precious and elusive thing. Oscar Wilde said that a cynic is "one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." A Christian should be the reverse: one who has less interest in the price of a thing than in its true value.
"The love of money is the root of all evil" said Paul. He did not call money itself the root of all evil, but rather the love of money. Of course money is needed as a means of exchanging goods in every organised society. But a person can become its slave through excessive love of money. It can become a substitute for God in one's life. In George Bernard Shaw's play, Major Barbara, when the rich industrialist was asked what was his religion he answered, "Why, I'm a millionaire. That's my religion!" but life is far more precious than the money we have, the food we eat or the clothes we wear. Possessions are only on loan to us, and in time we must leave them all behind. "Naked I came from my mother's womb," (Job 1:21), "and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away."
The parable of the Unjust Steward is about the proper use of money. Great personal wealth is rarely acquired without some sharp practice, and so Jesus regards money as somehow tainted. The laws and structures of society still seem to cater not so much to the common good but to the benefit of the wealthy and the priveleged few. We need to keep in mind the words of Jesus, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the merciful, blessed are those who strive for justice." This brings true fulfilment and the greatest reward of all, the friendship of God for all eternity. Deep down, we know that there are no pockets in a shroud.