19 September 2010
1 Timothy 2.1-8
I once attended the First Communion Mass of a 9-year-old daughter of good friends of mine. Back at their home for a celebration the little girl started to busy herself opening the gifts she had received. She focused on opening the envelopes. All but the last one she opened had money in it. She shook the offending empty envelope but to no avail and declared: ‘this one doesn’t work’. A child of our times alright, but in what way has she been brought up by us. Will the parents educate her to have a proper attitude to money? Today’s readings are about money, wealth and various attitudes towards them.
Before I went to Nigeria I was invited by a former classmate to go for a meal. He had a very important job as the Financial Manager of a company. He seemed to be very well off financially. When I returned to Ireland for my vacation I asked about him. I was shocked and very saddened to be told that he had been sentenced to 5 years in prison for fraud and stealing company money.
He reminded me of the dishonest steward in today’s gospel. Sadly, the gospel parable seems to jump out at us directly from today’s newspaper headlines. Quite often we hear of managers and others being accused of and dismissed for squandering money entrusted to them. Accounts of falsified documents, forgery, misuse of funds, scams – it seems Jesus is speaking of our time as well as his own.
What surprises us about today’s gospel is that at first Jesus seems to be praising the dishonest steward for what he has done. Rather, we would expect Jesus to condemn the actions of the dishonest steward. What Jesus praises the dishonest steward for is not his dishonesty but his astuteness or prudence in reacting to the situation when his master finds him out. He uses his imagination in a creative way to secure his future. He knows he is not strong enough to dig; he would be ashamed to beg. An important aspect of the parable then is that in the face of a crisis, of total loss he acts immediately and decisively. The crisis he finds himself in demands instant action and he responds.
Jesus compares the ‘children of light’, his followers, with the ‘children of this world’, those who live according to worldly values only. As the steward prepares for one form of ‘after-life’ when he is dismissed, Jesus invites us to be as decisive in preparing for our ‘after-life’. Jesus is not commending any form of dishonesty but rather invites us to take advantage of life’s opportunities to choose real life.
‘Use money to win you friends’ – money is there to serve us. Jesus invites us to use mammon, that is, money or material goods to share them with others, our families, friends as well as those less well off. There is a big difference between being a steward of the wealth and talents God has blessed us with and being at their mercy. Instead of us controlling them we can allow them to control us. For St. Luke, helping the poor and needy is the best way for us to serve God and not mammon.
This is what the prophet Amos speaks about in the first reading. He condemns those who are already well off but seek only to make themselves richer by exploiting the poor and the lowly. Religion can never be relegated to the purely private and subjective sphere, but must be assertive in the search for social justice.
The dishonest steward solved his problem by relying on the mercy of his master. How much will our loving God help us in our crises if we depend and trust in his mercy? Thus, the real point of the parable is to confirm the kindness and generosity of the master. He did not send the steward to prison but only dismissed him. He would honour the lower amounts the dishonest steward negotiated with the debtors. Jesus is saying – ‘this is your God. He could really punish you for your sinful ways but is merciful and compassionate to you like the master in the parable. He accepts a lot less from you than he is entitled to receive because of his incredible goodness to you’.
But Jesus is also challenging us. ‘Wake up’, he says. Be more decisive and imaginative in your Christian vocation so as to use your talents, money and the material goods of this world as is worthy of children of God. We don’t know what time remains for any of us. The terrible evil terrorist attacks we see daily on our TV screens should be a warning to us not to be complacent. God is so generous with us in spite of our dishonest ways. It is an invitation to us all to examine ourselves to see if we act honestly. Do we need to repent in any way and turn back to him using our talents and material goods to build his kingdom?
‘Heavenly Father, we are all dishonest stewards in one way or another. Thank you for your great patience in accepting far less in return from us than you deserve. Change our hearts so that we can be more loving and generous in our response to you. Amen.’
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA