Spiritual author John Shea has often mentioned that the historical Jesus was concerned with answering just three questions: What do you want out of life? Where do you get it? How much does it cost?
I presume the answer to the last question is the one we'd most like to avoid. Like Hogan's Heroes Sergeant Schultz our alibi for sidestepping the cost is a simple, "I hear nothing!" Yet it's nigh impossible to claim deafness after hearing today's first and third readings. Both Amos and Jesus follow a God who demands full-time discipleship, not just a part-time carrying out of a few selected and convenient components of God's will.
We must never forget that Amos delivered most of his oracles to the good folk who frequented Israel's National Shrine at Bethel. Despite the priests' opposition, the prophet constantly interrupted the faithful's prayers and sacrifices, reminding them that real faith was to be practiced much more outside those sacred precincts than inside. Yahweh was more concerned with how people related to one another on Sunday morning in the market place than how they related with him/her during the shrine's new moon and Sabbath rituals.
"'When will the new moon be over,' you ask, 'that we may sell our grain and the Sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating!'" No doubt any shrine devotee would cringe when he heard Amos begin his prophecies with the accusation, "Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land." The shrine's priest-approved prophets had too much respect for the sanctuary's benefactors to condemn actions or people in a way that would affect their bottom line. They had good reason to ignore the crimes their wealthy patrons committed against the poor. The survival of the institution was more important that the survival of the people. Shrine religion worked best when faith was relegated to the periphery of one's life. It kept the costs down to a bare minimum.
Luke's Jesus deals with a parallel problem in today's gospel pericope. He clearly states his concern: "The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." His example of the dishonest, squandering steward is classic. Leaving nothing to chance, the man spends a lot of time and effort in assuring a rosy future for himself. Jesus points out the obvious, evil people are more ingenious in plotting evil than good people are in plotting good. Most of the time, the latter usually leave it up to chance. If the "spirit" moves us, and it doesn't cost too much, we'll do good for others.
Perhaps we should examine our consciences when we get up in the morning instead of when we go to sleep at night. It's then that we're actually planning our day, then that we can best embed some good for others into the other things we're going to be doing during that day, and not leave it up to chance.
Following up on our I Timothy author's belief that God "wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth," we have an obligation to make that belief a reality. That's a full-time job, not just an on again/off again pastime.
I can imagine how forcibly the historical Jesus delivered this famous warning: "No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."
Such a double allegiance reduces the cost of following Jesus, but it'll never give us what we want out of life.