Fr Denis Hooper OSB
There is a lot of wheeling and dealing going on in today’s gospel. Quite a complex set of business transactions. Perhaps only Diego and his group young economists can make sense of it all for us. And amidst all the complexities of some pretty shady dealing Jesus finally gets his message out when he tells us in the last line of today’s gospel: “no servant can serve two masters”.
This is the best advice to give – not only to any young enteprenours and budding business executives. This is the very best of advice for all of us in the first reading from the prophet amos the lord says: “never will I forget a thing they have done”. In the second reading from st. paul to timothy we also heard: “this is good and pleasing to god who wills everyone to be saved”. Now, there is a thread of connection between these three readings. i wish to make this connection by telling you a true story from the second world war.
I recently read an account of the four Bielski brothers. “who” you may ask “are the Bielski brothers?” The Bielski brothers were polish Jews who fled to nearby forests after their parents and five other family members had been killed in a massacre in one of the polish ghettos in December 1941.
In the spring of 1942, together with 13 ghetto neighbours the Bielski brothers formed the nucleus of a group of jews who used the vast forests of present day Bellarus as their hiding place from an army that was constantly pursuing them.
Tuvia was the eldest brother and the leader of this small group who fled to the forest. He was very clear from the start that god had called him for one purpose and one purpose only: to welcome all Jews who came to join them: old and young; women and children. all Jews were welcome to the Bielski brother’s community in the forest.
Tuvia was a devout Jew and he believed from the start that god – his master – had entrusted him with the job of saving as many Jewish lives as possible. He was a relatively uneducated man who before the war lived an uneventful life as a shopkeeper until of course he was forced into the forest. Tuvia’s group was different to other partisan groups that were living in the same forest. The sole aim of the other partisan groups was to seek revenge and they wrecked death and havoc on the occupying army. But these other fighting partisans paid a huge price for their aggressiveness and many of them were killed as a result.
Tuvia was adamant that the purpose of his Jewish group was to save lives. After some time other Jews who escaped persecution in the ghettoes came to join Tuvia’s group in the forest. All were welcome and none turned away. By the end of the war the numbers filled to 1,400 Jews of all ages. They built a school, a hospital, a prayer house, a bakery, a clothes shop and more. They even had a Turkish bath house that opened a couple of times a week. Tuvia placed armed guards around the camp 24 hours a day.
On a number of occasions the Jewish community had to abandon their camp at very short notice because they had been discovered. They frequently practiced evacuations and within a very short time they were able to be gone further and further into the forests. They were never caught. They always escaped. This was a remarkable community of people and it was certainly not a perfect one. For instance, many of the younger Jews who were fit and able wanted to fight and seek revenge. Tuvia indeed let some of them join other fighting partisan groups. There are now over 15,000 Jews alive who are direct descendants of this group. And this number is growing.
A film “defiance” was made about Tuvia’s Jewish group. Daniel Craig played the part of Tuvia. It is an interesting film. Tuvia recognised that he couldn’t serve two masters. He is a wonderful example of a man who felt god calling him for one purpose alone – that of saving jewish lives. He absolutely refused to go on the offensive and seek revenge. He only allowed his group to defend with violence when they were threatened with violence. Tuvia Bielski chose god as his master. Remember our first reading today from Amos when the lord says: “never will I forget a thing they have done”. Remember St Paul’s reading: “god wills everyone to be saved” and as Jesus tells us in today’s gospel: “no servant can serve two masters”. Pretty good advice for all of us in a world that seems by the day to be getting more and more complex.