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    St. Mary's Parish
    211 Avenue O South
    Saskatoon, SK
    S7M 2R6

    Phone: 306 244 2983
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25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

What can we learn from the bad guy?

By Alice Camille

When I’m pope, Catechetical Sunday will be elevated to a high holy day. The color of today’s vestments will be red, because religion teachers are the unsung martyrs of the church. Pope John XXIII understood this when he advised the young man who insisted he wanted to sacrifice his life for the gospel: “Don’t be a martyr. Be a teacher. It’s much harder.”

The ministry of Jesus exemplifies this point. He heals the sick, walks on water, multiplies loaves, and raises the dead on three occasions. But chances are the hardest activity of his career was the teaching. Healing and miracle working are tasks Jesus can perform on his own authority. While a show of faith is gratefully received, it’s not required. Meanwhile catechesis—the unpacking of divine mysteries for mortal inspection—does involve our willingness and investment. Jesus can make a hemorrhaging woman stop bleeding and a blind man see. But he can’t make us hear what we refuse to hear. Jesus can’t force a closed heart to open. That’s what makes teaching so challenging and often frustrating. A catechist can lay out the most beautiful lesson in the world, but if a student refuses to receive it, it’s as if no words were spoken.

As a master catechist, Jesus tells story after story, resembling nothing so much as the mad sower of one parable: scattering seed on every quality of soil, hoping something takes root. Some parables are user-friendly: a mustard seed of faith can yield a mighty tree of results! Others are troubling: Can there really be a good Samaritan, and how can we continue to despise those people if that’s true? Some parables build on each other, the way three tales about money and value did last week. This week’s lesson is among the most challenging Jesus tries to teach.

The problem with the story of the cheating steward is that Jesus makes the bad guy into the hero—sort of.  Actually, Jesus does this a lot, only most of the time we don’t mind. In the Good Samaritan tale, we have no beef with Samaritans today, so who cares? The Prodigal Son who winds up feeding pigs is a horror to first-century Jewish fathers. But in our more indulgent age, our children can do almost anything and be welcomed home.

Here’s where the cheating steward becomes abominable even to us: He’s an embezzler! He’s cooking the books! Twenty-first-century Americans can’t stomach a crook any better than first-century Judeans could. It’s tough when Jesus holds up this man’s single-heartedness as an admirable model for us all. It’s an ambitious lesson plan, and one that still leaves many students scratching their heads.



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