25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – SEPTEMBER 22, 2013
With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur over our Jewish friends are now celebrating Sukkoth. It is a commemoration of their historic survival against impossible odds and their dependence on God. As the Israelites searched for a homeland they lived in temporary tents. Jews erect such huts or sukkahs during this holiday, simple in design and rich with symbolism. This holiday reminds Jews and all of us, I suspect, that possessions alone do not make us happy.
Some Jewish scholars point out a strong social justice connection with Sukkoth. Rabbi Menachem Creditor writes about mythical visitors to the sukkahs — called Ushpizen. They included a biblical prophetess, revered sages and modern heroes and heroines. Each of these guests is a reminder of an action through which “the brokenness of our world is repaired.” 
We might imagine that Amos, perhaps the most provocative prophet, would be one of these visitors. He repeatedly reminded Israelites to act with justice, exercise humility and not be arrogant in their faith. During his time there was peace and prosperity in Northern Judah. However, that good life came at the expense of people who were poor and powerless. Amos, as we heard in the first reading, criticized the corrupt business practices of an emerging wealthy class.  (Probably something like the 1% of our time.)
The gospel of Luke picks up this message. One way to interpret this complex and often confusing story is to think of that dishonest steward as a store manager who instructs his employees not to report everything they sell thus cheating the store’s owner. Ironically the owner thought his irresponsible manager was pretty clever for finding a way to make a commission. (But, he still fired him!)
However, what makes this story hard to understand is that the dishonest manager does not take the commission after all. He thinks by impressing the workers now they might take care of him later on when he can no longer work. (He was probably worried about his pension and health insurance.) In other words, for the moment, the manager took action against his own self interests.  All too often the opposite happens.
Today we know that some big businesses look after themselves at the expense of their employees. Governments cut programs which serve the poorest people and then they spend the money on satisfying the agendas of political action committees. It is hard to imagine justice prevailing, rolling like a river, when some people always put their own interests ahead of everyone else.
Jesus tells this story to urge his disciples to be unselfish and creative, to find ways to counter injustice. What are we to do? The liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council teach us that our “liturgy must lead to the creating and nourishing of a peaceful and just society.”  We do not often hear or think enough about this vital connection between worship and social action. Theologian Nathan Mitchell once explained that liturgies intend to socialize people over time into particular ways of acting and participating in the larger society.
And, this is exactly what we are doing next weekend. “St. Vincent’s on a Mission” is designed to take us out into the community. Many of us are involved in different ministries right here in the parish, which is wonderful. However, the big challenge that comes with the sacraments of baptism and confirmation is that we also are called to minister beyond the walls of this parish, to be global citizens.
During the past couple of days I helped lead an intensive seminar for young Jewish scholars studying to be cantors and rabbis. We also celebrated Sukkot and created a virtual sukkah filled with the stories that sustain our faith. There were stories of our parents, friends, spouses, partners and strangers. There were stories of happiness and of injustice. A sukkah has no doors; it is a temporary shelter open to all people. (Our parish is like that. All are welcome in this place.) My friend and colleague Rabbi Larry Hoffman reminded us of something I believe we all know. The presence of God is found in each and everyone of us and that we are called to make a difference in the world.
1 Creditor, Menachem. “Sukkot 5774” in Chag v’Chesed: Holiday Dvar Tzedek (ajws.org)
2 Tucker, G. in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, 1216
3 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke”s Gospel. (Collegeville: the Liturgical Press) 2000, 134
4 Weakland, R. “Revisiting Economic Justice for All” (www.commonwealmagazine.org/american-pastoral) November 13, 2012