PARABLE OF THE DEVIOUS STEWARD
(Biblical reflection on the 25th Ordinary Sunday, [Year C] – 18 September 2016)
Gospel Reading: Luke 16:1-13
First Reading: Amos 8:4-7; Psalms: Psalm 113:1-2,4-8; Second Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-8
He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ And the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘and how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest steward for his prudence; for the sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.
“He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:1-13 RSV)
Of all the gospels of the year, today’s is one of the most puzzling. We are shocked to think Jesus could praise such a person. It is true that the steward was irresponsible in his care of his employer’s property. The gospel says that he dissipated the rich man’s possessions, which implies that he mishandled his affairs, most probably for his own profit.
When the steward received notice that he was going to be fired, he struck upon a plan to win favour with his employer’s debtors. He called each one and reduced their debt. This action, which is the heart of the parable, did not constitute another act of dishonesty, as we may be led to believe. The debt owed included the steward’s commission, and what he apparently was doing was giving up that commission which belonged to him. Even today some promissory notes are written not in the amount of the principal, but with the interest and commissions totalled in. In other words, what the steward did was to give up his commission as a favour to the debtors, so that when he was fired they would befriend him. And so the employer gave the steward credit, not for being dishonest, but for showing initiative.
It was from the enterprise and initiative of the steward that Jesus drew His lesson. The steward not only had the good sense to realize that his future was in jeopardy, but he also decided to get some insurance for that future. He did a great favour for the debtors so that they would have to return the favour. As the steward himself said, “I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship” (Luke 16:4).
Jesus, however, does not want us to be just like the steward because, after all, he did make a big mistake. He was correct in worrying about his future; his mistake was in not looking far enough into the future. In other words, he was preparing only for temporal security when he would lose his job, but he should have been thinking about eternal security when he would lose his life.
It is really a shame that we do not work harder at our own eternal security. Jesus says that we are to use this world’s goods to gain a lasting reception in heaven. Money is not an end in itself. Money is supposed to be used to support one’s family, to help the poor, to spread religion. Frankly, money is a great danger. We can make our whole lives an effort to build up wealth, and forget about the needs of others who are worse off than we. This was the kind of thoughtless greed condemned by the prophet Amos in the first reading today. Money can even make us forget about God and think that we can do without him. Even for those who are poor, money can be a problem – because we can easily be trapped into thinking about little else than getting more money.
The Pharisees, who were fond of money, were listening to what Jesus was saying and they began to sneer at Him (see Luke 16:14). Undoubtedly some of us today may be tempted to sneer at this teaching of Christ that money is not the end of life, or at least we may be inclined to feel that it isn’t very practical. We live in a society that canonizes the wealthy and forgets about eternal life. As Christians we must remember that our true wealth, our lasting wealth, is in heaven. That is the kind of wealth which no one, not even someone like the devious steward, can steal from us.
In every Mass, we have a reminder of true spiritual values. In our memorial of the death of Christ we recall that, though He died penniless, Christ earned for us the greatest wealth possible, the riches of eternal life in heaven. As Christ renews the offering of Himself in sacrifice to God the Father, He invites us to join with Him as victims. That means that we must offer not only ourselves, but our money and all our possessions as well. We must profess in that offering, that all our worldly goods come from God and are to be used for His glory and our salvation. If we then live in accord with that offering, we can be confident that God will give us a lasting reception in heaven.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we can become satisfied with the material things around us. We can become so filled with these things and the desire for them, that we forget how passing they are. Open our eyes, our hearts, so that we can gradually and daily let go of all possessions. Even little things in our lives can become too important to us. Open our hands, so we don’t hold on to anything; open our lives, so we will be anxious only for Your love and Your presence to us. Amen.
Jakarta, 14 September 2016 [Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross]
A Christian Pilgrim