FROM A READING FOR SEPT. 18, 25TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth...' -- Luke 16:1-13

Contrary to popular Christian belief, the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures weren't sent by Yahweh to predict the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. The late Scripture scholar Rev. Raymond Brown always reminded his students and readers, "There are no Old Testament predictions of Jesus as we know Jesus."

Through the centuries, we've given prophetic statements meanings which the original prophets never intended to convey. If prophets simply predicted an event which would only take place hundreds of years down the road, why did so many of them die with their sandals on?

It's essential to see prophets as part of their day and age, not our day and age. They're the conscience of the people, reminding them of how God wants them to live their lives, constantly pointing out how they're living counter to God's plan. No one does this better than the first of the "book prophets:" Amos.

Active in eighth-century-BCE Israel, Amos does what all prophets do: He goes to the "good folk," showing how they're practicing a faith which isn't Yahweh's faith.

It's historically easy to practice a religion which, at times, actually leads people away from God's plan. If the prophet's audiences aren't at least outwardly committed to carrying out God's will, the prophet doesn't have much of an argument when he or she proclaims God's message.

Amos' message
That's why Amos delivers the oracles in Sunday's first reading (Amos 8:47) at the national shrine of Bethel, one of Israel's most sacred sanctuaries. He's addressing people who think they're good Jews: individuals who, among other things, keep the religious regulations surrounding the new moon and the Sabbath. If they didn't, they wouldn't be at Bethel.

But Amos points out that, once these holy times are over, those who so faithfully frequent the national shrine "trample on the needy and destroy the poor of the land." They use false weights when they sell their grain and are willing to accept bribes ("a pair of sandals") in their dealings with the poor and lowly. They go so far as to even sell "the refuse of the wheat" to those whose severe hunger forces them to buy it.

It's no accident that the Pauline disciple responsible for I Timothy (2:1-8) longs for followers of Jesus "to lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity." We share his wish that people "should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument."

All of us hope to live a peaceful existence. Yet the Gospel Jesus teaches that, because of the prophetic aspect of being other Christs, that isn't always possible.

Plan well for good
In Sunday's Gospel (Luke 16:1-13), Luke's Jesus reminds us that carrying on His ministry doesn't happen by accident. It usually takes a lot of planning.

He conveys that reality by pointing out the obvious: People work at doing evil much harder than they work at doing good. The unjust steward is ingenious in making certain his master's debtors "will welcome [him] into their homes" after he's been fired.

Jesus demands that His followers deliberately spend their lives giving themselves over to God, not to evil.

I've frequently suggested that we stop examining our conscience before we go to sleep at night and begin to examine it when we get up in the morning. With the day in front of us, we can more easily figure out at what point we can squeeze in a good action for a friend, do an unrequested favor for someone or simply be a loving person in a particular situation. It makes more sense to plot and connive good than just to instinctively do good when it comes to mind.

Such precise planning could really make us prophetic Christians "dangerous" people in the world.