By Dhanushka Dilshan
First Reading: Amos 8: 4-7 / Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 113: 1-2, 4-6, 7-8 / Second Reading: 1 Timothy 2: 1-8 / Gospel: Luke 16: 1-13
We, Sri Lankans, are the second wealthiest nation in South Asia after the Maldives and are considered an upper-middle-income nation. I know that information is surprising to many Sri Lankans with our day to day experiences in our country because that statistic does not display our reality. Nearly 45% of Sri Lankans live on less than $5 a day. Despite environmental disasters and other factors, poverty in Sri Lanka is actually declining. The majority of people in Sri Lanka suffer because of cyclical poverty. So what is the issue? Among our plantation crops, we know tea and rubber are important export crops because it pumps more money into the country. Those plantation sectors, who comprise the top-level-rich, become richer daily. On the other hand, people who are working in those sectors’ lives are controlled by the top-level-rich and they are forcefully putting peoples’ lives into poverty. The richest group enjoys 72.9% of the country’s total household income in Sri Lanka.
(continued from The Herald)
Let us go to the context of the first reading from the c.760–755 BCE during the rule of kings Jeroboam II and Uzziah. At that time was a prophet, Amos. Amos raised messages about justice often associated with righteousness. In this time the Northern Kingdom was enjoying prosperity, wealth, and privilege. It was a time of great prosperity because King Jereboam II had restored international trade. However, not everybody shared this great wealth. The rich grew ever richer, whilst many were poor and struggled to survive. If you were rich you could buy justice from political leaders and live extravagantly all whilst the poor struggled. Here Amos describes the insatiable greed of the merchants of Israel. Amos’s context parallels present-day injustice in Sri Lanka.
In the 16th chapter of Luke’s gospel, we can see Jesus was criticizing “wealth” by telling two parables, the “Unjust Steward” and “Rich man and Lazarus.” The gospel reading (Parable of the Unjust Steward) demonstrates how wealth leads to freedom from slavery. Like in all Lukan parables involving stewardship, the steward is expected to be faithful to the master. The faithfulness that Jesus praises here is the use of wealth to lead others to freedom from slavery. Jesus illustrates faithfulness both with unrighteous money and with that which belongs to another. Jesus, through this parable, is giving a message to those who are wealthy from unrighteous money to use that wealthiness to free people from economic slavery in our world. In another way, Jesus invites people who are becoming rich from an unjust economic structure in our country to share their wealth with the poor and oppressed. Simply, Jesus challenges our present-day greediness and unjust economic systems that put the majority of people into slavery. Similar to Jesus’ emphasis, in 2013, Pope Francis also wrote a massive statement against unjust economic structures he called an apostolic exhortation. The pope labeled what he called the “idolatry of money.” In this statement, Pope Francis says, “the worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, all, their lack of real concern for human beings; human is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.”
The Psalms remember that the God who does wonderful things on behalf of the weak and needy “raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.” Everything about Jesus’s life shows that he was absolutely committed to embodied compassion for the poor, the oppressed, and the rejected. Sincere Christians may make different choices about the best means to achieve a more just and compassionate society, but our criteria of discernment must surely be the same as Jesus’s. As we gather at Sunday’s Eucharist, let us be mindful that God nourishes us to follow Jesus’s steps to use our wealth to pursue the goal of Jesus’s will on earth and raise our voices against our present unjust economic systems that stem from greediness. Amos did this as well in the Northern Kingdom of Israel to bring the good news to the poor and release the captives and the oppressed. As the Spirit of the Lord anointed Jesus, we also are anointed by the Spirit of the Lord “…to bring good news to the poor. …..to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18B-19 NRSV). In our world, as followers of Jesus, therefore, let us become ministers in the vanguard of human dignity and protectors for the vulnerable daughters and sons of God in our world.