The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass.
Epidemic of Obesity threatens rich countries
Philippians 3:17-4:1 ©
My brothers, be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us. I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things. For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe.
So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.
Heaven for Paul is not a safe dimension that welcomes the faithful dead, but the active realm of God’s goodness which impinges on the world through the gospel of Jesus, the gift of the Spirit and the community of believing people. It is the “otherside” of all worldly phenomena. Salvation comes through trust in and faithfulness to heaven while living a courageous life in the world. Perhaps Paul thought that in his lifetime the risen Jesus Messiah would return to transform the world into the likeness of heaven.
Those whose eyes can’t see beyond the horizon of the world make worldly things their chief aim in life and therefore lose their way. Paul bluntly says, as the KJV translates, “Their God is their belly”, which the mealy-mouthed modern versions find too coarse. But what better expression to describe the tragicomic materialism of many current lifestyles whether the belly in question is obese or flaunts its overtoned abs.
Paul is not aganist the human body, simply conscious of its limitations, subject as it is to the decay that afflicts all life in the world. To make its satisfactions the main aim of life is to tether oneself to a dying animal. Neverthless, the body is the instrument by which we relate to other people; the gifts of the spirit, love joy peace and so on, are expressed through the body; and one day our full salvation will transform our weak bodies into the likeness of the glorious body of the Messiah. In our transformed bodies we shall see God.
However we interpret this teaching we cannot see it as life-denying. In fact with its focus on both heaven and earth it finds a very Greek middle way between materialism and all the spiritualities that view the world as unreal or demonic. Because Paul looks to heaven he can walk straight on the earth.
Luke 16:1-8 ©
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘There was a rich man and he had a steward denounced to him for being wasteful with his property. He called for the man and said, “What is this I hear about you? Draw me up an account of your stewardship because you are not to be my steward any longer.” Then the steward said to himself, “Now that my master is taking the stewardship from me, what am I to do? Dig? I am not strong enough. Go begging? I should be too ashamed. Ah, I know what I will do to make sure that when I am dismissed from office there will be some to welcome me into their homes.”
Then he called his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, “How much do you owe my master?” “One hundred measures of oil” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond; sit down straight away and write fifty.” To another he said, “And you, sir, how much do you owe?” “One hundred measures of wheat” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond and write eighty.”
‘The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness. For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light.’
There are many interpretations of this interesting parable. My Spanish bible commentary says that Jesus is praising the ability of the steward to predict accurately and to act decisively. The crisis that comes on the steward is the demand to present his accounts; the disciples’ crisis is that God may demand an account of their stewardship of the gospel. Why should the devil have all the best entrepreneurs? Knowing that time may be short, let the followers of Jesus use their astuteness and creativity for the kingdom. Certainly the kingdom belongs to the poor the humble and the gentle, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use their brains and determintion. “Wise as snakes, harmless as doves” was Jesus’ description of a good disciple.
Many churches today are caught in the crisis of their numerical and financial decline. This won’t be eased by believers who sit on their butts and hope it goes away. Only those who see the future holds and act decisively, if unconventionally, will be useful.