HOMILY: Unmerited Wealth

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time | September 18, 2016

Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click here: Salesian Sermons

PROTIP: You can take a look at the Sunday readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading.

I’ve come to realize that there are moments in life in which your worldview is forever altered. Moments in which you realize that your old patterns of behavior are no longer adequate.

Two of those moments occurred for me my junior year in high school.

I was waiting for my friend Trystin to arrive at my house, but he was late. I didn’t think much of it to be honest. I figured that he and his mom had hit some traffic or run an errand.

But when Trystin arrived, I could tell he was agitated.

He said, I need to tell you what happened to me this afternoon. But you can’t tell my mom. She would flip.

He then recounted how he was walking into a department store when he was roughly grabbed by a security officer and forced into a security closet.

​The crime . . . He was walking too fast and looked suspicious.

Trystin protested his innocence, but was still forced to empty his pockets before the officer begrudgingly let him go.

He left the encounter so rattled that he went back to his car and told his mom that they didn’t have what she needed.

I was so confused by this story. It just didn’t make sense to me. I mean why would any one think Trystin is suspicious. He’s a drama nerd like me.

“I always walk fast”, I said. “That has never happened to me.”

He looked at me and said, Brian, you’re not black.

I didn’t know what to say. I guess I had never thought too much about Trystin’s race. I guess I just assumed that his experience of life was pretty similar to mine. But it wasn’t. A point that would only become clearer as the years went on.

Fast forward a few months later and I am sitting at a traffic light waiting for a green light, when suddenly two African American teenagers walk by my car.

In broad daylight, I lean across the seat and slam down the lock.

As I lean back up, our eyes meet. He begins walking towards the car and all my fears suddenly seem justified.

He knocked at the window and I slowly rolled it down.

Why did you lock the doors?, he asked. There was no malice. Only sadness and resignation.

I always do that, I stuttered.

Sure you do, he said. And walked away.

And it was in that moment that I realized I was not as color-blind as I wanted to believe. Even though my best friend was black. Even though I walked the halls with classmates of every color and hue.

I still had my prejudices.

I share these stories today because in these experiences I feel like I can relate to the dishonest steward in today’s Gospel.

Like the steward, I stood before my master accused.

I was found in possession of dishonest wealth . . . wealth that I had not earned. Wealth that comes with being white and male in the United States.

And I had squandered this wealth in my ignorance that I even had it. I was benefiting from a privilege I never really knew I had.

But now, like the steward, I was faced with a choice.

I could give up. Admit the game was lost.

I could pretend that it wasn’t happening. As if I just denied it enough times, the Master would pretend it isn’t true

I could blame others for my predicament. Attacking those who dared to point out what I could not accept.

Or I could follow the path of the steward and manage well the unmerited wealth that I had been given.

See our steward too was in a precarious situation.

But he chose to make the best of it. He used the dishonest wealth that he had been given to not only help himself, but to help those who were in debt. Those who did not have the luxury of his position or influence. And in so doing, he gained the Master’s praise.

My friends, each of us inherits unmerited wealth . . .

We are born into this world with a host of characteristics that are attributed to us . . . we can be rich or poor, black or white, Catholic or Muslim, children of college-educated professionals or single moms on food stamps.

And these characteristics fundamentally shape the way we see the world and the access we have to the opportunities that should be equally ours as children of the one loving God.

So what do we choose to do with this wealth?

Do we choose to place our privilege at the service of others? Do we choose to listen more and judge less? Do we choose to admit that the road that others may walk is marked with pitfalls that we do not face? Are we willing to accompany them on their journey, even if that journey may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable? Can we see individuals as parts of groups without being fully defined by any one group?

Are we willing to suffer with the other who is made in the image of the same loving God whose children we are?

The choice is clear my friends. We must either choose our God, present in each and every one of his people. Or we will choose to cling to our wealth and allow that to define us and alienate us from all those who are different.

Here I am Lord. I come to do your will. May God be Praised.

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