Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

First reading                       Amos 8:4-7

Responsorial Psalm         Psalm 112(113):1-2,4-8

Second reading                 1 Timothy 2:1-8

Gospel                                  Luke 16:1-13

Last Sunday we heard the parable of the Prodigal Son who, after taking off with his inheritance, “squandered his property”. Well, today Jesus speaks of a steward who squandered not his own property, but the property of his master (Lk 16:1). A steward was a kind of manager or official administrator of an estate or even a state. And as you would expect, this wasteful steward gets the sack for his negligence. This steward, conscious that he’s about to lose his cushy position, must consider his future. He says to himself, “what am I to do? Dig? I am not strong enough. Go begging? I should be too ashamed.” This response indicates that the steward was somewhat accustomed to a life of luxury, meaning that his master is a very wealthy man. So, the steward calls in his master’s debtors and partially lets them off the hook in order to commend himself to their favour in anticipation of his impending dismissal. The steward, in other words, is “cooking the books” –stealing– from his boss in order to gain favour with other landowners.

What happens next is most extraordinary and unexpected. When his master finds out what this dirty little scoundrel has done (to use the words of a friend of mine), instead of punishing the fraudulent steward as we might expect, the master commends him! “The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness”, we’re told. What? The master applauds the one who’s just fleeced him! This is what makes today’s parable both fascinating and perplexing. And just when Jesus’ parable couldn’t get any stranger, Jesus urges his listeners to emulate the dishonest steward saying that we too should “use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity.” What on earth is Jesus talking about? How is this consistent with the Gospel values of honesty, righteousness, truth and justice? Herein lies the genius of Jesus, who by this riddle wishes to lead us to perceive a deeper mystery.

First, we can be sure that Jesus does not wish us to wheel and deal and steal. We should note that the master does not commend the steward’s dishonesty or theft. The master specifically applauds the steward’s astuteness (Lk 16:8). It is the steward’s perceptive foresight and practical wisdom which leads to the ability to act in anticipation of future difficulty that the master praises. It is precisely this element that Jesus urges his listeners to emulate. How does he suggest we do this? Well, he says “use money… to win you friends.” The Greek wording literally says, “make friends for yourselves out of unjust mammon/wealth” (ἑαυτοῖς ποιήσατε φίλους ἐκ τοῦ μαμωνᾶ τῆς ἀδικίας). What does that mean? What is “unjust wealth”? The next part will give us the key. Jesus says, “and thus make sure that when is fails you, they (the friends) will welcome you into the tents of eternity.” Ah, so these new “friends” that we are supposed to make by using our “unjust wealth” are those who will be in the tents of eternity. Earlier on in Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells us who these people are. He says, “blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the Kingdom of God” (Lk 6:20). It is to the poor that the tents of eternity belong. The poor are those we must make friends with using our “unjust wealth”. So, are Christians to become Robin Hood figures, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor? No. Here our Lord contrasts two kinds of wealth. “If then you cannot be trusted with money (lit. “unjust wealth”), that tainted thing, who will trust you with genuine riches? And if you cannot be trusted with what is not yours, who will give you what is your very own?” He indicates here that we have been entrusted with what is not ours. If we are not trustworthy with it, who will trust us with our very own? Herein lies the meaning of this so called “unjust wealth”.

Earthly goods and riches do not belong to us! “The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness, the world and all its peoples” – cries the psalmist in Psalm 23. Everything belongs to the Lord! Nothing on this earth belongs to us, dear friends. In this sense is our wealth “unjust”, for we possess what does not belong to us– in a sense it is “stolen”, or, we might prefer to say, “borrowed”. Now, one might well say, “but father, I’ve worked hard for what I’ve got; I’ve earned it fair and square!” That may well be the case, but that still doesn’t make it yours. When we die, will we take anything with us? Certainly not. That demonstrates that it doesn’t belong to us. Everything belongs to the Lord. Here is where the concept of the steward in the parable comes into effect: God has entrusted us with what belongs ultimately to him. We are stewards, administrators of the Lord’s estate.

In this light, we might begin to perceive the Lord’s meaning. As stewards of what belongs to the Lord, which includes not only our money and property, but also our time, talents, and our very persons, we must not squander what we are tasked with managing by hoarding it for ourselves. Jesus rather encourages us to be astute and forward thinking like the steward in our parable by using what we have to “make friends” with those to whom the Kingdom belongs. For if we are judged worthy of eternal life, it is the poor who will welcome us into heaven. Dear brothers and sisters, this is a striking reminder that we are temporary citizens, pilgrims on this earth and stewards of what God has entrusted to us. We must not squander our master’s property! Rather, let us act with prudent foresight, for how we use what we temporarily possess will determine, according to Jesus, whether or not we are given “genuine riches” of our own in the future.  


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