September 18, 2022 – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority even, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. Words from our 2nd Reading today from the 1st letter of St. Paul to Timothy – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
Once upon a time a tortoise and a hare had an argument about who was faster and decided to settle it with a race. Seeing that the hare was far ahead, he thought he’d sit under a tree for some time and take a break before continuing the race. He sat down and soon fell asleep. The tortoise plodded on and overtook the hare finishing as the champion. The moral of the story is one of wisdom and quality: slow and steady wins the race.
This is the version of the story that we’ve all grown up with, but the story continues. You see, the hare was disappointed at losing, and realized that he’d lost the race because he was overconfident and careless. So, he challenged the tortoise to another race. They started off, but this time, the hare went all out and ran without stopping from start to finish and won by several miles. The moral of this continued story: It’s good to be slow and steady; but it’s better to be fast and reliable. This might well be the motto of corporate America.
And yet, the story still doesn’t end there. The tortoise did some thinking this time, and realized that there’s no way he can beat the hare in a race the way it was currently formatted. He then challenged the hare to another race on a slightly different route. The hare agreed and so they started off. The hare sprinted ahead until he came to a broad river, but the hare didn’t know what to do. In the meantime, the tortoise shuffled along, got into the river, swam to the opposite bank, continued walking, and finished the race. The moral of the story? Learn to change the playing field to suit your situation. You could say this is what is happening in our culture and government.
Alas, the story still is not over. Now, by this time, the tortoise and hare had become pretty good friends and so they did some thinking together. Both realized that the last race as a whole could have been run much better. The tortoise and hare thus decided to do the last race again, but this time they would run as a team. They started off, and the hare carried the tortoise until they reached the riverbank. There, the tortoise took over and swam across with the hare on his back, and on the opposite bank, they reached the finish line together. Both the tortoise and the hare felt a greater sense of accomplishment than before. The moral of the story: when we try to get the best of each other, someone inevitably loses. But when we genuinely work together, as the hare and tortoise did, we can complete the course in a faster time than anyone could on their own, and we can finish the race as winners and as friends.
We heard two stories from our readings today focused on getting the best of each other. The first reading was about the selfishness of the merchants in the time of Amos, the prophet. These store merchants cheated their customers by fixing the scales and increased their prices. Think of it as the clerk tampering with your credit card transactions at the cash register. Essentially, they changed the playing field against the poor so as to make and keep themselves rich. Amos was right to call them out and criticize them. We also hear in our Gospel about the dishonest steward. The steward cheated the debtors by writing much larger promissory notes than what was originally owed on their loans to his master. When the master found out about the stewards’ extortion, he had the servant fired. These readings prompt us all to think about the place of money in our lives. The steward realized that wealth is a small matter but divine riches are a great matter. As the steward was cleaning out his office and about to leave the business, he came upon the realization that if we go around trying to get the best of each other, sooner or later someone is going to lose out. He thus changed his attitude and rather than focusing on his own profitability, he began to look out for the good of all involved. The benefits of him rewriting the loans are maybe not readily apparent in the Gospel, but by fairly and justly rewriting the loans owed to the master, everyone would be better off: the debtors would have reduced and affordable rates to which they initially agreed to anyway; the master would get what was originally and truly owed to him; and the steward would be more likely to be received into society because of his newfound teamwork ethic and selflessness.
I suppose at times we are very much like the hare and tortoise, or like the merchants and the dishonest stewards. We are competitive, and we live in a world that rewards competition, where only the best and strongest and fittest and the most intelligent win access to the finite number of resources available whether it be jobs or emotional attention or the opportunities to quote unquote ‘get ahead’ of everybody else in the race of life, presuming we know what life is about and what makes for happiness anyway. And when we find ourselves left out and compare ourselves to the successes of others, we end up putting others down out of envy to elevate our own standing, or we find ways to change the playing field against them. And yet, our vision for the Church is extraordinarily large. As St. Paul reminds us in our second reading, “God wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” We are a universal Church. God’s vision is not just for those who are slow and steady like the tortoise or for the fast and reliable like the hare nor is it reserved for the clever, but rather the beatific vision that we hold as Church is for everyone: known and forgotten, rich and poor, big and small alike. St. Paul reasons that since Jesus gave himself up on the cross for the salvation of all, for everyone, we are therefore to rise above ourselves and work and pray for the welfare of everyone in the same manner as Christ. As long as we try to get the best of each other, someone will lose out. But instead of trying to get the best of each other, we should be striving to get the best out of each other. God made us who we are, and has a plan and a role for each of us. We are all on the same team here, trying to accomplish the same ultimate goal of getting to heaven. In a Church and world full of differences and divisions, may God grant us the gift of communion.