Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An Angel at the Door

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 19, 2010, Year C

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

By Dennis S. Hankins


Readings For This Sunday

An Angel at the Door

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations. - Jesus

Daddy did not hesitate welcoming and feeding a stranger. I remember a Sunday in the fall of 1975. Daddy pastored Dierks United Methodist Church in Dierks, AR. Debbie and I were newly weds, and we were visiting my family at the time. All of us, Mom and Dad, we six kids and my wife had just sat down to a Sunday dinner. And then a stranger knocked at the door. While we all insisted on daddy to be cautious and not invite the hungry man in, Daddy was a man of faith. You see, he believed that passage that reads: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.(Hebrews 13:2)

There’s no getting around it. God does not take kindly when the poor and needy are ignored and worse yet, when they are trampled upon. Amos’ prophecy speaks to Israel’s attitude toward the poor of the land. Two Holy Days of obligation are addressed by Amos. The new moon occurred on the first day of each lunar month upon which a burnt sacrifice was offered. This consisted of two bulls, a ram and seven lambs along with various other offerings and libations. Like the Sabbath, the other day Amos mentions, no business dealings or ordinary work were permitted. These Holy Days were an inconvenience to those making their living exploiting the poor. And Amos reads their mail. He condemns, in no uncertain terms God’s displeasure with fraudulent business practices, false weights, high prices, even selling the refuse (the stuff off of the floor) of the wheat for a profit.

In short, Amos says, “You trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end.” But the Psalmist declares that God raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes.

I suppose my daddy’s soft heart in part was formed by the Depression of the 1920’s and 1930’s. He quit school at age 16 to get a job to help put food on the family table. When his shoes wore thin and through, he put cardboard in his shoes to help protect his feet. He never really forgot where he came from. Nor did he neglect the gift of friendship given him by the Father of the poor.

To be sure, in the Incarnation we witness God’s embrace of the poor. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to participate in the relief of the poor saints of the Church in Jerusalem. In doing so, he speaks of Jesus, who though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich. This reference to the Incarnation means that Jesus embraces us in our humanity so that we can share in his divinity. This rich outpouring of his life for ours demonstrates that God in the flesh wills that we be freed from the poverty of sin and death.

Therefore we share out of our ability, so that those who have little or nothing can be freed from their poverty of hunger and thirst. This, one would think, is a no brainer. However, we still contend with indifference and judgementalism. “It’s not my problem!” some say. Others whisper, “She made her bed, let her lie in it.” “I don’t want my money supporting another welfare baby, let her have an abortion!” some say, chiding both the mother and the innocent baby.

Today’s words from St. Paul to Timothy appropriately challenge such attitudes. Paul explains that the man Christ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all. Furthermore he states how God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. While we pray for a quiet and peaceable life, we also pray to be godly and respectful in every way. That’s where the lost, the forgotten, those who may be counted as the off scour of the earth come in. It is in their faces we see Jesus. Do they see his in ours?

It’s a Wonderful Life! is one of my favorite movies. It’s story sheds light on our readings today. The old Bailey Building and Loan office helps the poorer clientele in Bedford Falls. But old man Potter runs the bank and owns most of the town. Mr. Potter describes the customers of the Bailey Building and Loan as the rabble of the community. And it is this attitude about Potter’s fellow human beings George Bailey addresses.

George Bailey says:

“Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about...they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book, he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be.”

George Bailey went on to argue that Bedford Falls needed the Building and Loan. “This measly one-horse institution,” he said was necessary. “If for no other reason than to have some place people could come to without crawling to Potter,” George said.

Potter’s response? “Sentimental hogwash,” Potter said.

We need more George Baileys because God likes sentimental hogwash!

At the end of the movie, the rabble that the Bailey Building and Loan had bailed out through the years now bails George Bailey and his B & L out of a financial disaster! The moral to that story is spread around some sentimental hogwash, you may need some yourself one day. Or as Jesus says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.

Jesus talks to us today about making friends of the poor; about using our money rightly as alms for the poor. Jesus commends to us the value of serving and discerning the needs of our day. In this regard, he says, “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

Looking toward eternity, we, the sons and daughters of the light are led by one master. It is our destiny to follow the example of him who for our sakes became poor. Jesus says, “When I was hunger, you fed me; when I was thirsty, you gave me a drink; when I was naked, you clothed me; in as much as you do this for one of these, you do it for me.” In serving the poor, we serve God; serving mammon we only serve ourselves. If we want to have a good commendation when we approach St. Peter, we want the poor shouting out, “He fed me, she dressed me, he gave me a drink, he visited me, she prayed for me, he wept with me.”

I don’t remember for sure If Daddy let that man in to sit at our table. But I do know that the door did not go unanswered nor the angel go away hungry.

Let us pray: Dear Father of every good and perfect gift, even Jesus our Savior. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, help us to be cheerful in our giving, to have willing hearts and open hands. Help us to treat your friends as ours. Amen

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