The basis of any relationship, including the relationships that bind us together as a society, is trust.
In the time of the prophet Amos there was great prosperity for the rich but this had only made them want more and more. Their greed had led them to tamper with measures, raise prices and do anything they could to squeeze more money out of the poor. They were abusing the power that came from their wealth, using the levers of economic control to line their own pockets instead of ensuring that the nation’s wealth was used fairly to make life better for all the people. For Amos, this was not simply economic injustice, it was an offence against God who is the creator of everything that exists and who cares about all his people, especially the poor and weak. It was a sin against the commandment to love God and your neighbour. The rich had been blessed with abundance by God, so they were obliged to use God’s gifts justly and generously: their behaviour was a breach of trust.
Our society is very much like the situation Amos was criticising. Industrialisation, globalisation and economic progress have created wealth on a scale never seen before but the gap between rich and poor is greater than ever. Trust in leaders and institutions is at a low ebb and many people react by trying to get away with anything they can. How are we to behave in this unjust situation? The crooked steward in the Gospel is grudgingly praised by his master, not because what he did was good but because it was crafty. He is held up to us not as an example but as a warning, which Jesus drives home: if we can’t be trusted with small things, with money and things that don’t belong to us, how can we expect to be trusted with the things that really matter, the genuine riches of everlasting life?
Trust must be rebuilt in our society. That will involve political action, but it must start with personal conversion. As Cardinal Basil Hume wrote, ‘If I say things have to change, that means I have to change.’ Each of us is responsible for the choices we make, small or great, every day. If we want to live in a society built on trust, we have to be people who can be trusted.