If we could harness the brilliance of scammers who prey on the elderly this time of year, we might be able to cure cancer. It’s not enough that we must judge the reputation of people coming to our doors before November’s elections asking for our vote, but we must also judge the veracity of door-to-door “contractors” offering to inspect our furnace, fix our roof or insulate our house before “the mother of all winters” sets in. This Sunday’s readings remind us that mankind’s talent for scamming is as old as scripture and is well documented there. If only today’s perpetrators were as honest about it as those quoted in our first reading from Amos (Am 8:4-7) :
“When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”
Jesus knew these types well because it was them that he came to save. But he also warned their targeted victims about the brilliance of these scammers. Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke (Lk 16:1-13) features the parable about the steward who squandered his master’s property and then, upon getting caught by the boss, tried ingratiating himself with the people who owed his master money by offering them discounts. Jesus says the master commended this dishonest steward, “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
Jesus reminds us “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. … No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
Jesus entrusted Paul with the great matter of drawing God’s children away from the darkness of selfishness and into the light of service to each other. The children of light bask there and share the Father’s greatest gift: the truth. It’s a shame that Paul, as the deliverer of this good news via his letter to Timothy (1 Tm 2:1-8) , had to compete with the scam mongers of his time to win the children’s trust.
“Christ Jesus gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony at the proper time. For this I was appointed preacher and apostle — I am speaking the truth, I am not lying.”
Bernie Madoff, perpetrator of the most notorious Ponzi scheme ever devised, probably said the same thing to his investors. So why should we trust Paul with our faith investment? Because he and his partners invested their lives enriching our faith. Yes, we must avoid charlatans, but we must also be careful to invest our faith and not bury it in the ground like the servant who, fearing the consequences of losing his master’s investment, did nothing with it. Faith implies risk, but the damnation from doing nothing is a sure thing.