22 September 2019
1 Timothy 2:1-8
I once worked as a Prison Chaplain. One day I met a new prisoner who had just been imprisoned for 6 years. He explained to me that he had defrauded his company. He told me he was the secretary of the company employing him. He said that his employers trusted him with a lot of the company’s money. After a year he felt he could falsify documents and make a lot of money for himself. Unfortunately his dishonesty was discovered. The result was he was condemned to 6 years in prison.
He reminded me of the dishonest steward in today’s gospel. Unfortunately the gospel parable seems to jump out at us directly from today’s newspaper headlines. Almost every day 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 – it seems Jesus is speaking of our time rather than his own.
What surprises us about today’s gospel is that Jesus seems to be praising the dishonest steward for what he has done. Rather we would expect Jesus to condemn totally the actions of the dishonest steward. Obviously this is not the case. What Jesus praises the dishonest steward for is not his dishonesty but his astuteness or prudence in reacting to the situation when he is found out by his master.
What Jesus is praising is the resourcefulness or the imagination of the dishonest steward not the fraud. 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 total loss he acts immediately and decisively. 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 or financial cheating 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. We are invited by Jesus to use money or material goods to share them with others, our families, friends but especially the less well off. In the theology of St. Luke taking care of 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 seek only to make themselves rich by exploiting the poor and the lowly.
But there is a much deeper meaning to the parable. And this really is the Good News of today’s gospel.
When the master found out about the steward’s dishonesty, instead of putting him in prison as would normally be the case, he simply told the dishonest steward he could no longer work for him. Thus the steward then had the opportunity to act immediately and decisively to gain his future. We know what he did. Obviously before the debtors of his master found out about his dishonesty he took advantage of the situation. The steward knew his master would honour whatever decisions he made as he was still acting on the master’s behalf. The steward knowing his master to be a kind and generous man quickly got the debtors to write lesser amounts to be repaid than were on the original bonds or promissory notes. He hoped by doing this one or more of the debtors of his master would appreciate what he did and take care of him for helping him.
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 money and the material goods of this world as is worthy of children of God. We don’t know what time remains for us. The terrible evil terrorist attack on the Americans a week ago should be a warning to us not to be complacent. God is so generous with us in spite of our dishonest ways. Will we repent and turn back to him in generosity, especially in our care for the poor and needy?
‘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 into hearts of loving and generous response. Amen.’
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA