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November 10, 2017 - Just a Little Good

Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

Scripture Readings

One of my daughters' favorite books is Mercer Meyer's book Just a Little Sick.  In this book, Meyer's Little Critter is at home from school because he has a fever.  At first, he's very excited because he thinks being a little sick is fun: he can stay home and play.  But then he discovers that his mother's idea of what sick kids can do and his idea of what he can do when he's sick differ quite a bit.  And then he discovers that he's really not feeling so well, after all - certainly not well enough to play.  So by the book's end, he hopes that tomorrow, he'll be able to go back to school and play with his friends.  The Little Critter learns that being "just a little sick" is actually different from being wholly well, even if being "just a little sick" isn't quite as bad as being a lot sick.

Today's readings remind me of this book and of the need to remind ourselves that we are "just a little good".  We are not wholly Good (because as Jesus says in other passages, only the Father is Good), but neither are we evil.  In a world where it is all too easy to allow ourselves (with help from our friends and enemies both) that we are either better than we are or vastly worse than we are, this should be good news.

Today's gospel lesson (Luke 16:1-8)  seems at first to be about a man who is "bad".   This steward is troublesome guy for several reasons. First, as the master notes, he's been squandering property and is therefore not really being a good steward of resources.  He's just bad at his job.   But second, take a look at the excuses the steward comes up with once he finds he's losing his job: not strong enough to dig, and too ashamed to beg.  Or put perhaps more bluntly: not willing to do some hard labor, and not willing to accept that otherwise he will have to beg for food.  And then the third reason he's troublesome: he's hoping that the people who owe his master money might be willing to take him in, and so he's plotting ways to get in their good graces.  He's not trying to negotiate their debts with them because he thinks the debts are unfair, or because he wants to be generous.  His sole motivation is a selfish desire not to have to do hard labor or beg - to him, the worse possible options.  There is very little that seems, at the outset, to be honorable about this person. 

This is why the outcome of the parable is so helpful!  The master praises the dishonest steward for doing even just a little bit right, which in this case means having prudence.  The master finds the bit of good in the steward.  Like that master, Jesus searches us and knows us - all our failings, and our good parts.  And he's saying we're called to be his disciples, despite it all.  The point is not that we are perfect, for none of us are.  The point is that Jesus calls us anyway, to be a light in this world of darkness and to be good in a world of evil, even if only in the small ways that most humans can manage.

This connects well with the first reading (Romans 15:14-21) where Paul says, "I am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness...."  Paul's audience does not necessarily see itself as good.  In fact, the Romans may feel overwhelmed about trying to do good in a world that is so full of evil, just as our own world is today.  So Paul exhorts them: "You are full of goodness...."  Elsewhere in scripture, Jesus says that only God is good: when Paul proclaims that we are full of goodness, he is saying, we are full of God.  

Today, let us pray for the grace to see ourselves as God sees us: fallible human creatures who are capable of seeing and doing good.  And let us ask for the grace to be "good enough" for today.

- Jana M. Bennett