Let’s try to understand better why the Prophet criticises the rich. In the Gospel, Jesus seemingly speaks of “priority” when he says that we cannot serve two masters at the same time—one must come before the other. But, if you reflect further there are no two masters because there is just no basis for comparison between them, between God and wealth. One is creator and the other is created. There are no two equal “masters” competing for our loyalty because one is sovereign and the other is dependent. When we have grasped the fundamental difference between the Creator and the created, then, there is simply no “priority” because God always comes first in our lives and everything else is contingent; everything else is dependent. In this context, the Prophet’s criticism is directed against those who have forgotten the fundamental truth of the dependence of the creature upon the Creator. All we have is not ours. They come from God.
It is in the context of this fundamental dependent relationship—that everything comes from God—that we can now explore the idea of accountability. The basis for speaking of accountability is Genesis 1:26 where it tells us that God created Mankind to “have dominion” over all creation. This dominion is a reflexion of God’s authority over Creation—made in the image and likeness of God that we are—hence, we are to be accountable for the way we reflect God’s stewardship over creation. In light of our dependence on God, wealth becomes God’s loan to us and thus we must be accountable. Stewardship by its very nature entails accountability and here is the crux: the more you have, the more you will be held accountable. That’s the basis for the Prophet criticising those who have been blessed more but have not been more responsible. “Never will I forget a single thing you have done”. Amos does give a fair warning on accountability. In the Gospel, the rich man asks his steward to give an account of his stewardship. And the steward acts exactly as he is expected. He may not be right in his method but still he acts within the remit or the boundary of being accountable.
Today we are challenged to give an account of our stewardship. Amos is as relevant as he was in his time. How can we be accountable for the wealth that the Lord has entrusted us with. For example, the current climate of crime in our country is a topic very quickly brought up in polite conversation. We may point to the statistics to indicate that the crimes are committed by the foreigner. And our response is to buy the latest car protection system; instal the most up-to-date home security or live within a gated community. In short, we rightly do all we can to shield ourselves from the troubles brought about by the “foreigners” in our midst.
Here, I’d like to apologise to the migrant community present amongst us. It’s not about you but rather about us. We need scapegoats and “scapegoating” is an indication of a lack of accountability because it is always easier to blame than to look at ourselves. The Chinese in the country were scapegoats once and maybe still are with regard to the economic situation. Hence, instead of blaming, Amos challenges us to take a closer look at how the economic system worldwide is organised? How have we contributed to an economic system which is unjust in the treatment of people? In the newspapers, we read about the rising number of foreign workers coming to this country but working without just remuneration. What is the response of those who have a louder or stronger voice in a matter such as this? It is about accountability.
This is where our reflexion often stops. We cannot be responsible for the entire world. And that is a fact. As a consequence, this fact “cannot be responsible” is quickly translated to “we are not responsible”. If I can’t do anything about it, let me not sweat it. Does this explain apathy that we face today? Apathy is not because we are bad but rather a resignation in the face of a situation beyond our control. This explains why vandalism is a modern scourge. It’s this big something over which we have no control that makes us all frustrated and thus we strike out. Vandalism is a response to a situation in which a person has no control over and unfortunately, often at the expense of the innocent and the faceless.
That is why accountability must start off with the personal, the individual—the “I” and not the “they”—a recognition that dependence is personal stewardship. And in the context of our greatest challenge—global warming, each individual must look at the way he or she consumes. I cannot be responsible for how others behave. But I can be responsible for how I behave. My choice together with others—personal and corporate stewardship—has an impact on the world. But it must start with a personal conviction. It does not begin with “when others do it, I’ll do it”.
Let me give an example: How the vow of poverty that every Jesuit takes is an exercise of stewardship. I lived in the Philippines for 6 years. I think the Philippine Bishops are really at the forefront of this environmental accountability. They were the first in the world to write a pastoral letter on the environment. When I went to Loyola House, Manila in 1988, we all use the ubiquitous jeepneys for their transportation—our jeepney really was a chimney more than a jeepney. It left a trail of black smoke. But, because we were so blinded by the vow of poverty we failed to see that poverty must protect a greater value—it was not about owning less but it was about lessening as much as possible the degradation of the environment. Yet, we drove that smoke belching jeepney and became part of the polluters rather than the solution to the environment degradation. As a body, we failed in our corporate accountability. The Jesuits are not poor in the Philippines.
In conclusion, the 1st Reading and the Gospel are not really speaking of the rich-poor divide. They teach us the fundamental truth of our dependence on God. All else revolves around this truth. Once we have set our heart aright on this truth, we will begin to appreciate that everything we have is entrusted to us and our duty is to give an account of our stewardship but truth to tell, when we have set our hearts aright, stewardship will be more of love than of duty. It will be our joyful embrace and not an imposition. Let’s pray for that grace.
We are outraged at the finding of a dead girl whose body had been stuffed into a bag. Sexual perversion might be too easy a reason to explain what had taken place. We think that there is really an increase in sexual depravity. But sexual depravity might mask a deeper symptom of frustration. Sexual aggression is often a symptom of a loss of control over one’s life and may be a possible reason for the compensation of this loss of control. When there is a loss of control, there is always an accompanying frustration. When people are angry they take it out on the weak and the defenceless… children are often the first targets.