Thursday, September 15, 2022

Faithful in little things


This post is based on the gospel passage: Luke 16.1-13

In Luke’s gospel,  Jesus concludes his story of the dishonest manager and rich man by saying “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Really! Is Jesus inviting us to be shrewd in a dishonest way as this manager was?  No! Rather, he is using this parable, and this one, line to get our attention. He wants us to stop and reread that line again, and ask: Really. You want me to be dishonest.  But if we read this in context, along side the preceding sentence: “The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light”, then we understand his lesson, which is the need to give as much attention to the things which concern our souls as we do with things that concern our business, then we would be true disciples of Jesus.

In other words, as Jesus himself said in this same parable: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” 

We will do well – if we get the little things right. An example of what I mean is found in this story that originally appeared in the New York Times many decades ago.

One stormy night many years ago an elderly couple entered the lobby of a small hotel and asked for a room. The clerk explained that because there were three conventions in town, the hotel was filled. He added, "But I can't send a nice couple like you out in the rain at 1 o'clock in the morning.  Would you be willing to sleep in my room?"  The couple hesitated, but the clerk insisted.  The next morning when the man paid his bill, he told the clerk, "You're the kind of manager who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States.  Maybe someday I'll build one for you."  The clerk smiled, amused by the older man's "little joke." A few years passed.  Then one day the clerk received a letter from the elderly man recalling that stormy night and asking him to come to New York for a visit.  A round-trip ticket was enclosed. When the clerk arrived, his host took him to the corner of 5th Avenue and 34th Street, where a grand new building stood.  "That," explained the elderly man, "is the hotel I have just built for you to manage."  "You must be joking," the clerk said.  "I most assuredly am not," came the reply. "Who--who are you?" stammered the clerk.  The man answered, "My name is William Waldorf Astor."  That hotel was the original Waldorf-Astoria, one of the most magnificent hotels in New York.
The young clerk who became its first manager was George C. Boldt.  His act of charity transformed his life. An act of charity that would change the hotel industry of the time. His belief, along with his wife’s support, as a manager of the Waldorf Astoria they set out to make sure that the visitors were treated like kings and queens. Louise painted the rooms and gave guests the most exquisite flowers, candles, and even pincushions while he oversaw the hotel’s commercial operations. They did little things with great love.

We have two stories. Both did little things with great effect.  While the dishonest manager shrewdness is an example for Christians to quit squandering the gifts God has given us to use to build up the kingdom of God, only the hotel manager meets Jesus’ standard of what it means to be his disciple.
The standard Jesus judges true disciples is found in the last judgement scene. After Jesus describes how they either responded to his needs or ignored them, they asked: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

This concluding line of the Last Judgment scene is often overlooked. But it is this line that sums up the whole gospel message and describes what is meant by Jesus’ claim that those who are “faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.
A classic example of someone who was faithful in doing little things and has been declared a saint by the Church is Mother Teresa. What I mean is summed up in the words the future Pope Francis spoke in a homily given to thousands of children in  Buenos Aires. He asked the children gathered: “Who told us that we can find Jesus in those most in need?” “Mother Teresa!” they replied. “And what did Mother Teresa have in her arms? A crucifix? No—a child in need,” he taught them. “So we can find Jesus in each person who is in need.”

And as Mother Teresa would say: “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

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