Saturday, September 17, 2016

Serving two masters

The 'Thinking Anew' column in today's Irish Times.

Michael Commane
At the beginning of this month the G20 met for the first time in China. The G20 is a forum for governments and governors of the central banks of the 20 most powerful countries on earth. Holding it this year in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou was a significant moment for the host country.

The Chinese put on a spectacular display for the visiting dignitaries.

But what piqued the interest of the western media was how US President Barack Obama exited Air Force One. Instead of a special stairs and red carpet to greet the president, he left the aircraft using the built-in staircase. When White House staffers objected to what happened a Chinese official was overheard shouting: "This is our country! This is our airport!"

Obama made little of it: "I wouldn't over-crank the significance of it."

Many newspaper columns were given over to how the Chinese treated other guests at the forum. It was said that Chinese leader Xi Jinping seemed to give more time to Angela Merkel than he did to Theresa May. And so on.

When it came to reporting on the summit, newspaper headlines, TV and radio had more time for to the stairs incident than for  what some of  the most powerful men and women on earth were discussing. 

Yet item number four of the final communiqué reads: "We believe that closer partnership and joint action by G20 members will boost confidence in, foster driving forces for and intensify cooperation on global economic growth, contributing to shared prosperity and better well-being of the world."

Anyone who reads tomorrow's Gospel might well be able to link the sentiments expressed in the G20 communiqué with what Jesus is hinting at.

Tomorrow's Gospel (Lk 16: 1 - 13) tells us that "you cannot give yourself both to God and to money".

Take both together and we have a simple reminder to get our priorities right.

Could it be that our focus has always to be on God and it's important that we never allow anything else to distract us in our search for God? It's so easy to be distracted.

Luke tells us that a servant cannot serve two masters. "Either he does not like the one and is fond of the other, or he regards one highly and the other with contempt." 

Putting our focus on God’s message surely means looking out for other people, placing people and the concerns and needs of people at the top of our agenda, making sure that people are well cared for. Christianity means looking out for the other person.

The hullaballoo at the G20 meeting in Hangzhou tells a great tale of how we all lose sight of what's important and not important. The G20 forum gives the top leaders of the world a chance to talk about how to make our planet a better place for all its citizens. And what do we end up doing? Spending time discussing how President Obama exited his plane. 

But it's the way of the world. It's the sort of thing so many of us waste our time and energy on. Instead we should be focused on making the world a better place so that everyone of its seven billion people can reach the potential to which they have been called. Each of us has been made in the image and likeness of God.

The week after the G20 summit in China, RTE Television broadcast a programme on Jesuit priest Peter McVerry and the work he does in Dublin's inner city. It was a great example on how we can give ourselves to God – always in the context of caring for people, especially those most in need. McVerry and his team are living out the words of tomorrow's Gospel.

PS What were the guiding principles that influenced the Irish Government to appeal the  EU Apple tax ruling?

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