Jesus and all prophets save their harshest words for those people who "compartmentalize" their lives.

In the first reading, Amos, the first of Scripture's book prophets, lays out those who not only "trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land," but still believe they're faithfully practicing their Jewish faith in the process (Amos 8: 4-7).

Of course, to be successful in pulling off their charade, they have to put their faith in one compartment, and their oppression of the poor and needy in another. "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...fix our scales for cheating...buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell."

Everyday faith

Amos knows Israel's wealthy rarely cheat or defraud the poor on a holy day or during a sacred season. But the faith and principles they profess during the new moon festival or on the Sabbath are completely ignored the next day. Yahweh swears, "Never will I forget a thing they have done!"

The second reading (I Tm 2: 1-8) addresses the same issue, but from a different angle. Here, the problem isn't compartmentalizing one's moral behavior; it's compartmentalizing God's salvation. Some in the writer's community seem to have fallen into the trap of believing that God treats Christians in a different way from pagans. A few even refuse to pray for those outside the community.

Speaking in the Apostle Paul's name, the author tries to correct this mistake: "First of all," he writes, "I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority....This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth."

Though some of God's followers tend to divide God's actions in this world on the basis of who receives them, the letter writer reminds us of one of our faith's basic truths: "There is one God. There is also on mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, Himself human, who gave Himself as ransom for all." Division comes from faith's human element, not the divine.

Extraneous faith

Luke's Jesus echoes Amos' concerns. But He doesn't zero in on a specific area of faith as the prophet does. Rather, He addresses the issue of turning faith itself into a peripheral aspect of our day-by-day lives (Lk 16: 1-13).

Jesus isn't praising the unjust steward for his unjust actions. He simply compares that person's conniving and ingenuity in achieving a cushy future with his followers' lack of conniving and ingenuity in pursuing their faith.

"The children of this world," He points out, "are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light....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 believes whatever one does, one should do against the background and within the context of one's faith. He even borders on the sarcastic when He mentions that if someone is concerned only with becoming wealthy in this life, he or she should "make friends with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwelling." In other words, they'd better use their money to buy their way into heaven, because that's the only way they're going to get there.

Our Bible's creators are a strange lot. They actually believe that people are never to put their faith into one of life's compartments. They think faith makes sense only when we use it to completely transform all the compartments into which we squeeze our lives.

(09-20-01)