On Sunday, both Amos (8: 4-7) and Jesus (Lk 16: 1-13) show amazement at how ingenious some people are in carrying out evil. They plan, plot and connive, leaving nothing to chance.

"Hear this," Amos proclaims, "you who trample upon the needy, and destroy the poor of the land! '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.'"

Working within the restraints of the liturgical obligations imposed by new moon and sabbath, the evil make certain the poor will become poorer. To guarantee they'll always come out ahead, they employ fixed weights, containers and money. Amos is convinced it had to take a long time and lots of effort to accomplish all this without being caught.

Sneaky

But not only do they cheat the poor in buying and selling, they also announce, "We will buy the lowly for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals."

"A pair of sandals" is a biblical idiom for a bribe. We would say, "Someone's palm got greased!" or "They're on the take!" These perpetrators of evil sleep well at night. They've even bought off the authorities. No judge would convict them of wrongdoing.

Amos knows none of these things happens by accident. Someone had planned this unjust behavior in great detail, just as the unjust steward does in Luke's Gospel.

"What shall I do," the caught-red-handed employee asks, "now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?...I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes."

One by one, he significantly reduces the promissory note amount for each of his master's debts. No doubt, when he's finally fired, they'll quickly take care of him. Even the ripped-off master congratulates "the dishonest steward for acting prudently." He's one smart cookie.

It's Jesus' role to deliver the punch line: "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." What we do part-time, they do full-time.

The message of both readings is clear and biting: If good people focused on accomplishing good with the same intensity that evil people employ to accomplish evil, we'd all be living in a better world.

Planning

Jesus puts the issue in its perspective. "You cannot serve both God and mammon," He warns. By not plotting good, we're turning over the store to those who plot evil.

This seems to be why the second reading (I Tim 2: 1-8) encourages readers to do what's necessary to create a world in which "we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth."

Though, at this point of his letter, the writer stresses offering "supplications, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings" for those in authority, his overall goal is to remind his readers that their faith isn't just a part-time endeavor.

Most of us do good things "when we think about it," or when we're moved by some special insight or inspiration. We don't see the necessity of planning or even scheduling good. That would make it too rigid, artificial or structured.

Jesus and our sacred authors believe faith and the actions that flow from it are the most important dimension of our existence. Though they certainly encourage spontaneous good works, they expect us not just to avoid evil, but to replace it with deliberate, thought-out good.

(9/16/04)