Becoming More Prudent Stewards in Dealing with our Generation, 31st Friday (I), November 10, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
November 10, 2017
Rom 15:14-21, Ps 98, Lk 16:1-8

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted:

  • Throughout this month of November, we ponder more deeply what we celebrated during the first two days of this month: the last things, that we will die, be judged, and eventually end up for eternity in one of two places; and that we are called and helped by God to end up in an eternal communion with him by means of his mercy and through saying yes to him in a life of sanctity. Today we are able to continue to meditate on the realities we celebrate on All Saints and All Souls Days.
  • Today’s Gospel is meant to help us to prepare for our judgment by inspiring us toward a life of sanctity, minimally out of eternal self-interest. Jesus stresses in a brutal, cutthroat, bottom-line manner what we need to do and does so by means of what for many Catholics is the most confusing parable in the Gospel, what’s popularly called the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, something that can get some people to wonder whether Truth incarnate is praising a crooked business manager for wily deception, whether he who gave us the commandment “Thou shalt not steal” is himself praising someone for violating it. But Jesus is doing no such thing. In order to grasp what Jesus was and was not saying and what the crucial lesson is for us, however, we first need to understand better the literal sense of this passage through grasping something about the way loans were done in the ancient world.
  • In the Parable, a manager is about to get sacked because he was squandering the property of his business owner. His boss gave him his pink slip and told him to do an audit of the books prior to his dismissal. So the man called in those mostly tenant farmers who owed his employer money or items and reduced their debts considerably. At first glance, this seems like dishonesty, like he was allowing these debtors to steal from his boss, but it wasn’t. In the ancient world, the way loans were conducted was that the manager or broker would be paid by adding on something to what was borrowed, rather than a percentage taken out of the master’s proceeds. For example, if someone borrowed 50 denarii or 50 barrels of oil, he would have to pay back the 50 to the master and another 10 — or 30 or 50 — to the broker, whatever the broker thought he could get. This dishonest steward was probably tacking on way too big of a commission, and, in order to maximize his profits, was probably, like Fannie and Freddie in our own times, lending out the master’s property to very bad risks, allowing people on the Master’s fields who were going to waste it rather than produce. Hence, when the manager called in those who owed, for example, 100 containers of wheat, and reduced the amount to 80, what he was almost assuredly doing was eliminating most or all of his commission. Therefore, he wasn’t really allowing them to steal from the owner; he was eliminating his own take. Faced with the decision of saving his life by making friends who would take care of him after he was fired or trying to hold out to the end onto the possibility of making money via these commissions, he chose to save his life. His master — and Jesus through the master in the Parable — calls this prudent and wise.
  • What’s the application to us? Jesus wants us to examine whether we are in the place of that dishonest steward. God has given each of us tremendous gifts on the basis of which we have made profits, or tried to make profit. He has given us our hands, which we use to work. He has given us our brains, which we use to think. He has given us our families and friends, our education, our lives, and so many other blessings. He has given us our vocation! With these gifts, we have profited and made a manifold commission. But have we been using those gifts fundamentally to build up our kingdom or to build up the Master’s? If we’ve been squandering his gifts on ourselves or the things of this world, Jesus gives us this parable in order to help us to see that our time is coming to an end and that we need to prepare an accounting. He wants us, like the steward in the Gospel, to start to sacrifice our “commissions,” our possessions, our time, our lives for others so that we might be taken care of in return — so that they may remember us, and then be our supporters and welcome us into, as Jesus says, “eternal homes.” The implication is that if we don’t want to do the right thing simply because it is right, if we don’t want to love others because we’re Christian or we have good heart, then at least we should do it because it is in our eternal best interest. Like the steward in the parable, we are faced with the choice between trying to keep our profits and trying to save our lives. We cannot take money or possessions with us as we go. The only thing that fits through the “eye of the needle” (Lk 18:25) are acts of love. All earthly mammon will eventually turn out to be no more valuable than monopoly money. Jesus wants us to be as wise in the spiritual realm as greedy businessmen are in the material realm. If we use whatever God has given us in this world to take care of others, at our judgment and after it, they will be among those in heaven who welcome us into the eternal home of heaven. Jesus will turn to us and tell us that whatever we did for them, he took personally: “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
  • Jesus says immediately after today’s Gospel that the “children of this age” are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than “the children of light.” What he was saying is that people who are worldly are often much more “prudent” than believers when it comes to making choices that concern their survival. Business owners, if they know that a certain practice is losing them money, try to fix it right away. If they can’t, they eliminate it. They know that in order to survive, they’ve got to cut their losses, otherwise they’ll end up in chapter 11. Christians, however, when we know that a certain thing is losing us God’s grace, seldom act in such a decisive and intelligent way. Even though such a serious sin might send us into eternal bankruptcy, we often don’t get rid of it. Jesus instructs us to act with bottom-line brutality in the Sermon on the Mount, but few of us follow this advice: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell” (Mt 5:29-30). The failure to cut out sinful behavior from our lives is, for Jesus, simply stupid. Sinning in such a way is cooperating with the devil, and that would be like a businessman’s employing someone whom he knows will steal from him and try to destroy his business.
  • In this story, Jesus is essentially telling us to use our heads, to be smart about our salvation. Jesus’ words today are like a top notch group of business consultants who come in to analyze a failing business, find out where the inefficiencies are and design a business plan not only to save the company but make it thrive; but the key is not just in the information, in knowing what needs to be done, but in having the wisdom, courage and resolve to implement that plan. That’s what Jesus is proposing to us today, with urgency. Unlike in the parable, when we meet him face-to-face, we’ll have no time to return to try to fix things. We have to fix them now. If we’ve been selfish with our gifts, if we haven’t been putting God first, if we have been neglecting those left in ditches on the side of the road, the time is now to use our heads to do so. If we’ve been trying to compromise with a sin, with something that is obviously wrong but which we’re trying to deny, the time is now to change. Now is the time for us to be as shrewd about storing up for ourselves heavenly wealth as millionaires are to increase their fortunes here on earth. We cannot serve both God and mammon. We cannot worship God and the Golden Calf. We cannot be sons and daughters of the eternal Father and seek the inheritance offered by the prince of the world. Just as the steward in the parable couldn’t try to keep all his commissions and win the favor of those who owed him, so we must choose between storing up treasure and pleasure in this world, or using everything we have in this world to store up eternal treasure and happiness in the next. This is a choice the Rich Young Man was presented by Jesus and sadly refused to take. Today Jesus out of love offers us the same deal urging us to seize it and obtain the pearl of great price.
  • We have two examples today of those who lived as honest stewards and children of the light and who sought to help the whole Church do the same. In the first reading, we see St. Paul begin to wrap up his Epistle to the Romans. He tells them that he was written to them “rather boldly in some respects to remind you” of what Christ himself has entrusted to them, to lead them “to obedience” to what God has asked. He says, “I have finished preaching the Gospel of Christ,” which doesn’t mean he was never going to do it again, but that he has shared the whole Gospel with them: now it was for them to live it. Now it is time for them to live justified lives by grace received through faith expressed through love. Now is the time to live according to the Holy Spirit, knowing that God makes everything work for the good and nothing can separate us from him. Now is the time to offer our bodies and whole lives as a holy and acceptable sacrifice to God, our fitting worship. Now is the time to love sincerely and with affection. Now is the time to recognize that all that God has given us is meant to be used for our and other’s salvation, for the building up of God’s kingdom. St. Paul made himself all things to all people, he was a steward of everything given. He even used his imprisonment to write letters, like this great Epistle. His example inspires us.
  • The second standout example we have today is St. Leo the Great, on whose tomb I have had the privilege to celebrate Mass so many times in my life. He was a good steward and used everything God gave him for the Lord’s kingdom. He was gifted with extraordinary eloquence — he and Cicero are the two greats in Latin history — and used it for the Lord, writing extraordinary poetry to adorn the Churches and then sermons and letters and theological treatises thereafter. During my pre-theology years I had read a few of his sermons on Christ’s incarnation and they moved me so much that I ended up gradually reading all 96 of his extant homilies and 143 letters. He was a great custodian of the liturgy, seen at the Lateran baptistery he rebuilt as Archdeacon for Pope St. Sixtus III, the imagery of the triumphal arch of St. Paul’s outside the walls, or the salvation history focused on Joshua found in the mosaics he had commissioned for the Basilica of St. Mary Major after the Council of Ephesus. He considered himself responsible before God for his people and courageously confronted Attila the Hun in 452 and diverted Attila from his plans to pillage Rome the same way he and his armies had despoiled so many other cities in northern Italy. He passionately defended the faith against the heresies of Arianism, Pelagianism, Manichaeism, Priscillianism, Nestorianism and Eutychism and sought the unity for which Christ prayed during the Last Supper. On the theme of stewardship, there’s a mystical experience he had that is important for us to ponder in this month of November with today’s reading as a backdrop. At some point early in his papacy, as he thought about the weight of the office, he began to become somewhat frightened about all of his mistakes, failings, and sins. He prayed for 40 days to the Lord at the tomb of his predecessor St. Peter begging the Lord for mercy. At the end of the lengthy novena, St. Peter appeared to him in a vision and said that the Lord would be very merciful to him, except those sins “committed by you in conferring holy orders: of these you still remain charged to give a rigorous account.” The experience deeply affected Leo and always left him with a sense of his duties to assure the worthiness of any priest or bishop on whom he would lay hands. He would even lay down a rule for the primitive canon law of the time “not to lay hands upon any one suddenly, according to the precept of the apostle, [and] not to raise to the honor of the priesthood any who have not been thoroughly tried, or before a mature age, a competent time of trial, the merit of labor in the service of the church, and sufficient proofs given of their obedience to rule, their love of discipline and zeal for its observance.” The Lord wanted bishops to be wiser than children of the light in terms of whom would be leaders. And if Christ held his priests to those standards, then we should not be frightened about our call, but, with confidence in our vocation, live it to the full as shrewd children of light.
  • The Lord who calls us to live by the Spirit as true children of God is prepared to give us all the help he knows we need to do so. He is about to feed us with himself, the greatest treasure in the world, and to send the same Holy Spirit who will soon convert bread and wine into his Body and Blood to renew us in our divine filiation so that we might truly call out “Abba, Father!” and live in accordance with that dignity. Today as we prepare to receive him, we ask him to grant us that help he knows we need to live as wise children of the light, to imitate his own wisdom and way of life, so that, when it comes time for us to render an account of all the blessings of life he has given us, he may praise us eternally for acting shrewdly and, together with all those we’ve helped through sharing God’s generosity as good and faithful stewards, we may be welcomed by him into his eternal home!

 

These were the readings for today’s Mass: 

Reading 1 ROM 15:14-21

I myself am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters,
that you yourselves are full of goodness,
filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another.
But I have written to you rather boldly in some respects to remind you,
because of the grace given me by God
to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles
in performing the priestly service of the Gospel of God,
so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable,
sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast in what pertains to God.
For I will not dare to speak of anything
except what Christ has accomplished through me
to lead the Gentiles to obedience by word and deed,
by the power of signs and wonders,
by the power of the Spirit of God,
so that from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum
I have finished preaching the Gospel of Christ.
Thus I aspire to proclaim the Gospel
not where Christ has already been named,
so that I do not build on another’s foundation,
but as it is written:
Those who have never been told of him shall see,
and those who have never heard of him shall understand.

Responsorial Psalm PS 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4

R. (see 2b) The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.

Alleluia 1 JN 2:5

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Whoever keeps the word of Christ,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 16:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.
He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship,
because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,
now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that,
when I am removed from the stewardship,
they may welcome me into their homes.’
He called in his master’s debtors one by one.
To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.
Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’
Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of wheat.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note;
write one for eighty.’
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.
For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than the children of light.”