Sunday, September 22, 2013

You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody

A very young Bob Dylan

(Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on September 22, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Luke 16: 1-13.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-fifth Sunday 2013]


You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls


But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody


You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief


You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name


You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks


You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir


Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed


You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray [if it’s yours truly you may call me Fr. Ray!]
You may call me anything but no matter what you say


You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody


Thank you, Bob Dylan, for helping me to explain this very difficult gospel passage we just heard from Luke 16 with the lyrics from one of your songs. 

Many Scripture scholars and preachers will tell you, my brothers and sisters, that this story of the dishonest steward is the most difficult parable of Jesus to interpret. 

And I’m inclined to agree with them!

One of the reasons for the difficulty, according to Scripture scholar William Barclay, is that there are at least four different lessons attached to it.

The first has to do with the passion and dedication of Christians compared to the passion and dedication of worldly people; the second concerns the use of material possessions; the third is that a person’s way of fulfilling a small task indicates his fitness or unfitness to perform a greater task; and the fourth is that no slave can serve two masters.

Sounds like four separate themes, does it not?—four separate, disconnected lessons.

Well, not really.  There is at least one idea, one theme, one word that connects all these different lessons—and it’s the very same idea that stands behind the lyrics of the Bob Dylan song that I quoted to you a few moments ago.

The word is COMMITMENT!

These four lessons—and the song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”—have to do with our commitment to Jesus Christ and the teachings of his Gospel.

Take the first.  Jesus says, “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with this generation than are the children of light.”  Professor Barclay says the following about that verse: “[This] means that, if only the Christian was as eager and ingenious in his attempt to attain goodness as the man of the world is in his attempt to attain money and comfort, he would be a much better man.  If only men would give as much attention to the things which concern their souls as they do the things which concern their business, they would be much better men.  Over and over again, a man will expend twenty times the amount of time and money and effort on his pleasure, his hobby, his garden, his sport as he does on his church.  Our Christianity will begin to be real and effective only when we spend as much time and effort on it as we do on our worldly activities.”

In other words, the COMMITMENT of believers to Jesus and his Gospel is usually far less than the commitment of worldly people to gaining and enjoying—and promoting—the things of this world.

Just look at how committed the worldly people in the secular press are right now to turning Pope Francis into a liberal.  They’re trying to do that almost every day by misrepresenting the things he says or by pulling them out of context. 

If only more Catholic parents were as committed to the religious education and development of their children!  Ask Chris Magowan or any other director of religious education and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms that to many Catholic parents these days religious education is no more than an afterthought.  We had registration for CCD here at St. Pius on THREE WEEKENDS in late August and early September.  And yet, do you know how many calls we got in the last few weeks from parents asking, “Gee, when is CCD registration?”

Obviously those parents are in church a lot!  Obviously their commitment to Jesus and his Church runs deep!

Do you know how often young people say to me, “Fr. Ray, we’d like to go to church on Sundays, but we’re too busy.”?

They—and their parents—have any and every excuse for not being there.  Their absence is ultimately rooted in a very weak and flimsy commitment.

This idea of commitment also stands behind the other three lessons in the parable.  The second, about the proper use of money and material possessions, is found in these words of Jesus: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”  (The word “dishonest,” by the way, is used there to describe earthly wealth because, unfortunately, earthly wealth can lead some people to dishonesty.  At least, that’s the interpretation of the term given in a footnote of the New American Bible.

But I think there a lot of merit to it.)

As Catholic Christians, our COMMITMENT to Jesus and his Gospel needs to go beyond words: it’s supposed to be evident in the way we use all the “stuff” God has blessed our lives with: in our generosity to our parish; in our concern for those in need.  Those are ways to “make friends for [ourselves] with dishonest wealth.”

Which leads directly to the third lesson, found in these words of our Lord: “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.  If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?  If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?”

In other words, our COMMITMENT (there’s that word again!) to using our earthly wealth in the proper way will influence whether or not we receive the true and everlasting wealth of heaven!

Which means you can’t serve two masters in this life (lesson four)!  When all is said and done and everything else is stripped away, either we’re in the state of grace or we aren’t (that’s true of each of us; that’s true of every single human person).  Either our COMMITMENT is to Jesus and his Gospel, or it’s to the things of this world and to the Prince of this world.

And that’s why Dylan wrote and sang those words we heard a few moments ago:

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

May each and every one of us, always and everywhere, serve the Lord—and only the Lord!