Homily: Who’s On First?

September 22 – Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Amos 8:4-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-8, Luke 16:10-13

I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:

There have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of volumes of work written on the topic of Christian Morality – lengthy dissertations that enlighten us on the causes and types of sin and encourage us to stay on the straight and narrow path in order to maintain a “right relationship” with God. Scholars study for years and spend thousands of dollars to acquire graduate degrees with a focus on this topic.

Today, I am going to save you years of time and thousands of dollars. I am going to share the basic tenets of Christian morality with you in the course of one homily. (You’re welcome.)

I will offer a philosophical viewpoint that examines the big picture, a theoretical viewpoint that explores the problem, and a practical viewpoint that offers a solution.

On the philosophical side, well-known Christian writer C.S. Lewis said this: “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can only get second things by putting first things first. Put first things first and we get second things thrown in. Put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”

Let me repeat that: “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can only get second things by putting first things first. Put first things first and we get second things thrown in. Put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”

Lewis’ point? Putting God first is the only path to true Christian discipleship. It’s about setting firm priorities, not constantly grasping at the newest or next best thing. It’s about staying focused on what’s most important.

I’m no C.S. Lewis, but on the theoretical side, the struggle of Christian morality can be thought of in these simple terms: Human beings desire a right relationship with God, but sometimes, often in the heat of the moment, we desire something else more.

Most of our destructive or sinful behavior is carried out with full knowledge and deliberate consent. In other words, we know it’s wrong but choose to do it anyway. In that moment, we desire the adrenaline rush or the self-gratifying results of the behavior more than our desire for a right relationship with God.

Echoing Lewis’ thinking, our priorities are out of whack. Every such behavior takes us further down the wrong path. We are our own worst enemy; we are the primary obstacle on our personal path to true Christian discipleship.

Finally, on the practical side, today’s gospel passage from Luke states things very clearly: We can’t serve two masters. Often, while on our lifelong journey toward God, we come to a fork in the road. We allow shiny objects to take us off course. We are drawn to different gods.

Luke wrote: No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

We may have heard mammon described as possessions or material wealth. However, for our purposes it is defined as all worldly things that compete for our attention, our desire and our dedication.

This may include possessions or material wealth – a large home, a nice car, or a full bank account. However, it could also be a relentless pursuit of success or power. It could be addictive behaviors  – drugs, alcohol, pornography, or gambling.  It might even be something as seemingly innocuous as spending three nights a week out with the boys. It can be weekend athletic schedules that prevent us from attending Mass.

With the exception of a few I mentioned, these things are not intrinsically bad or evil. However, when they become our priority – when there is a distorted desire or love of these things – it can cause us to drift further away from God. We are serving the wrong master. Or as C.S. Lewis would say, “The second thing has become the first thing.”

In today’s second reading, we heard a passage from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy.

In the passage, Paul encouraged his friend and protégé, Timothy, to keep his priorities in line. Timothy had been put in charge of the large and growing church in Ephesus. He was young to have a position of such honor and power. He could easily have fallen prey to misplaced priorities and been enamored by the perks of his new position.

Paul cautioned Timothy when he wrote: “…there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all.”

Paul learned from his own life experience that we are imperfect beings; we sin; we stumble and fall. Our actions take us out of balance when it comes to our relationship with God. We struggle when trying to get back in balance on our own. Jesus Christ, Paul wrote, acts as our mediator, our go-between.

The path to God the Father goes through Jesus. Who better to mediate the relationship between human beings and God than Jesus – fully human and fully divine?

Christian morality in a nutshell: The moral Christian aligns his priorities with the will of God and acts accordingly, focusing on what’s most important. Our primary desire must be for Him.

Some of us may walk away from today’s gospel disappointed, asking ourselves why it appears to be an either-or situation. I can have God or I can have my stuff – I can’t have both. I would say you can have both, you just can’t serve both.

In a later chapter of Luke, Jesus will tell a rich young man that following the commandments is not enough – in order to attain eternal life, Jesus tells him to sell all his belongings, give the money to the poor, and then come and follow Him. We are told the man went away sad, for he had many possessions.

God is not presenting us with an either-or choice, He is challenging us to reflect upon the importance we place on worldly things. Are these things competing for our attention, our desire and our dedication? Are our priorities out of whack?

Jesus was not challenging the rich young man because he had many possessions. He was challenging him because He knew these possessions had become gods. The man’s world revolved around his stuff.

Jesus attempted to act as mediator, bringing him back into alignment with the will of God by re-directing his focus.

At morning prayer on Friday, I came upon these heartfelt words Tobit proclaimed to God: “Happy are those who love you…and happy those who rejoice in your prosperity.”

We are not losing out when we place more importance on God. We are simply aiming for a different type of prosperity.

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