Scripture Readings: Book of the Prophet Amos 8:4-7; First Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy 2:1-8; Gospel According to Saint Luke 16:1-13
The characters Jesus describes in this Sunday’s parable are not proposed as models whose precise behavior we should imitate. Other parables of Jesus, though, do hold up exemplary behavior. Think of the Good Samaritan who acts so wonderfully, or the publican in the temple who knows his place as a sinner, as well as the father of the prodigal son (last Sunday’s parable), and the prodigal son himself, who repents of his wrongdoing. They all give good example of ways to act, which should be imitated by all.
But what about a dishonest steward or manager, given to us in this Sunday’s Gospel? Yes, even he becomes a model, for by his clever actions in time of crisis, while not noble, nonetheless show a decisiveness that is in sharp contrast to many “sons and daughters of light,” who are complacent, negligent and lukewarm in their spiritual journeys. So in a sense Jesus points out a “bad example” as in fact an example of a way of acting, using insight, persistence and total dedication.
In the parable this Sunday, the stweart or manager of property of a wealthy man, faces destitution because of his imminent dismissal. In this crisis the manager acts with foresight and resolution, ensuring a secure future. He responds with cleverness to his circumstances and so in a sense is a “prudent” man, by worldly standards. His prudent and decisive action is the key idea of today’s parable. Put in the form of a question: what shall be the response of the people who hear Jesus (ourselves included) to the situation in which they find themselves today, but also at the coming of Jesus at the moment of death and at the end of time? The situation demands a decision and no one can escape it, though many try to.
The dishonest manager of the parable, when accused of misdoing, acts decisively, after sizing up his imminent situation of dismissal, and there upon making for the last time the best use of his powers as manager of the property.
The action of the manager, who alters documents of loan so that debtors owe less on their loans, may in fact only be a lessoning of the dishonest manager’s commission on loans being repaid to the owner. Nonetheless, the deed gains for the dishoney manager new friends, who are grateful for the reduction in debts owed to the property owner.
Jesus commends such “worldly prudence,” we might call it, of the dishonest manager who was faced with a crisis. Keep in mind the origin of that word, crisis, which means a decisive moment or turning point, when a choice must be made. Jesus is saying, in other words, that the way of acting of people of this world, in this case a dishonest steward, becomes a sort of model of the virtue of foresight, for those who are sriving to cling to God’s ways each and every day.
Another lesson from the Gospel this Sunday is this: followers of Christ are never to turn worldly things, such as money, into a god, but use them for doing good and for survival, but not embracing opulence. The reminder that “you can’t take it with you” must be borne in mind and never lost sight of. Living simply and uprightly is the way of the Lord’s disciples. In fact the monastic movement in the early Church was one such application of the Christian ideal to the reality of the times, namely, the drifting away from earlier ardent adherence to Christ.
In this Sunday’s parable, using the image of wealth and stewardship, Jesus calls upon us to reflect on “wealth” of an entirely different nature than a monetary one. We are to focus on a type of stewardship with which we have been entrusted in this life, which is, care for the gifts given to us by God. Upon our trustworthiness with “that which is another’s,” namely, God’s, depends on whether God will entrust to our care heavenly riches and especially our “final inheritance,” or as Jesus call it, “that which is your own.”
No one can gain heavenly riches for us, other than Christ, and so we must work for it by doing God’s will in conjunction with the rest of humanity and within our faith community. At the same time, it is all a free gift from God, a gift we are capable of accepting or rejecting. “Be among those who willingly and eagerly accept the God’s gifts,” Jesus is telling us.
Today we are being asked a fundamental question: to whom shall we dedicate ourselves without reservation? In the Gospel today “mammon,” or wealth, is personified, considered to be an opponent of God’s claim to our allegiance. The root meaning of the word “mammon” is along the lines of something on which we depend or in which we put our trust. Perhaps the “god” that is most likely to lead to idolatry in this day and age is material possessions.
The call to a radical decision for God, and a Christian use of material possessions, should remain living words for us, shaping our lives and informing our decisions.