Imitating The Unjust Steward, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), September 23, 2001

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
25th Sunday of OT, Year C
September 23, 2001
Am 8:4-7; 1Tim2:1-8; Lk 16:1-13

1) This Sunday’s Gospel is perhaps the most confusing story in any part of the Gospel. It almost seems as if Jesus is praising a crooked business manager for his wily deception. It seems that he who gave us the commandment “Thou shalt not steal” is himself praising someone for violating it, if violating it were in one’s self-interest. What is Jesus doing? In order to answer this question, we first have to understand what was happening in the story and then ask the question what application Jesus is making to us, right here and now.

2) The first thing to resolve is what is happening in the story. A manager is about to get fired because he was squandering the property of his master. His master give him his pink slip and told him to do an audit of the books prior to his dismissal. So the man called in those who owed his master money or things and reduced their debts considerably. At first, what this seems like is stealing, but it’s really not. In the ancient world, the way such business was conducted was that the manager would be paid by adding on something to what was owed the master. He’d receive what we call today a commission, but a commission that would be added on to what was borrowed, rather than taken out of the master’s proceeds. So if someone borrowed 50 denarii or 50 barrels of oil, he would have to pay back the 50 to the master and another 10 to the broker. This unjust steward was probably tacking on way too big of a commission, and, in order to maximize his profits, was probably lending out the master’s property to very bad risks. Hence, when the manager called in those who owed, for example, 100 containers of wheat, and reduced the amount to 80, what he was in effect doing was eliminating his entire commission. Therefore, he wasn’t stealing, per se, but 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 and 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, calls this prudent and wise.

3) What’s the application to us? It’s actually quite stark and shocking when you see it. The application is this. We are those stewards. God has given 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 lives and everything. With these gifts, we have made a commission, some of us a very good living out of it. But none of these gifts were meant strictly for ourselves and our own profits, but for the building up of his kingdom. Rather than use them for that purpose, Jesus is saying, we have used them to enrich ourselves. Now the master comes and says, we’ve been squandering his property, and our time is coming to an end. We need to prepare an accounting of how we’ve used his gift of life and the talents he’s given us. This will happen at the end of our lives, when our term, our time is up. Each one of us has misused his gifts every time we’ve sinned, put ourselves first and him second, which does not mean every time we’ve actually done something wrong, but also all those times we’ve failed to do something good that we were capable of doing and should have done.

4) What can we do about it? Jesus implies that we should do what the steward in the story did. Use the profit we tried to gain selfishly from these gifts and give it to others, to take care of them, 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, then at least we should do the right thing because it is in our best interest. We, like that steward, are faced with the choice between trying to keep our profits and saving our lives. We cannot take money or possessions with us as we go. The only thing we can take are acts of love. 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 says, whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me. Even if we’re not moved out of love to help someone less fortunate, we should at least do it out of prudence, because we will have to render an account. You cannot serve both God and money, Jesus says in the Gospel. We have to make a choice, just like the steward in the account. Either to try to serve the money and keep it, or try to save our lives.

5) Jesus says in today’s Gospel that the children of this age, the children of the world, are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the children of light. What he meant to say is that people who are worldly are often times much more “prudent” than the people who believe about making such choices that concern their survival. Our experience shows how right Jesus is. Businessmen, if they know that a certain thing is losing them them money, eliminate it from their business. They don’t try to compromise with it. They might try to fix it, but if they can’t, they get rid of it, because they know that in order to survive, they’ve got to cut it, otherwise they’ll end up in bankruptcy. Christians, however, when they know that a certain thing is losing them God’s grace, don’t act in such a decisive and intelligent way. Oftentimes they’ll try to compromise with it. Even though such a serious sin might send them into eternal bankruptcy — hell — they oftentimes don’t get rid of it. Jesus would call such behavior simply stupid. Sinning in such a way is cooperating with the devil, and that would be like a businessman’s employing someone whom he knew would steal from him and try to destroy his business.

6) In this story, Jesus is essentially telling us to use our heads, to be smart about our salvation. In the final analysis, that’s all that matters. God, as we hear in the second reading, desires all to be saved. He desires us to be saved. He himself has shown us the way. But we’ve got to choose to follow him down that way of loving and serving God and loving and serving others. Saying yes to God means saying no to lots of other things, Saying yes to God means using our heads and orienting everything we do toward that meeting with him face-to-face, in which we have to render our account. Unlike in the story, when we meet him face-to-face, we’ll have no more time to go back and 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, 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. Jesus the divine physician is waiting to heal you in the operating room of the confessional. He’s saying don’t be like those human beings who don’t go to see a doctor until it’s too late.

7) These past couple of weeks have given us a glimpse of those who are following Jesus’ advice, whether they know it or not. We can think about those countless heroes who used their own gifts of life to try to save others. The ones on the plane in Pennsylvania who saved so many lives on earth. The countless in NYC who made the supreme sacrifice out of love for others, just as Jesus did out of love for us. These will not lose their reward. In giving of their lives, they saved their lives. This weekend, Bishop O’Malley has given us the chance to use our gifts wisely, authorizing a special second collection for the victims’ families in New York City. Whatever you give today will go directly to support the extraordinary efforts of Catholic Charities in NYC, Brooklyn and Rockville Center to support those so devastated by these events. Your generosity here to those in need would be the simple response of love, but it would also be wise like the good steward. One day, they and those they lost, might have the chance to welcome you into God’s eternal home.

8 ) But I encourage you as well to go well beyond that, and sacrifice not just some of your profits, but your time and yourselves, continuing to pray for these victims and our whole nation, and in the process help yourselves so much in terms of preparing your own accounts for the Lord. We’re about to go to war. The President said as much in his inspiring speech on Thursday. There’s no better service we could do for our nation than to pray, pray hard and heroicly, without ceasing. The nation is about to ask many of our young men to put their lives on the line to save the world from the constant threat of terrorism. The rest of us can at least put our lives on the line in prayer. Perhaps this might be the time for you to think about coming to daily Mass, to pray each day for our nation, for our soldiers, for peace in the world. Last weekend several people called the rectory asking us if we were going to be doing a special prayer service for the tragedies of last week and the victims. I said, not trying to be funny, yes, we are offering six Masses every weekend and two Masses every day for all of those intentions, and that we would be praying for those intentions at our exposition and Holy Hour on Mondays. One person responded, “No I mean a prayer service with candles and stuff like that.” I said very nicely in response, to try to help the person enter into a much deeper reality, “No, Ma’am, we’re doing something much greater than that. We’re coming and actually receiving and adoring the Light of the World, Jesus, so that we might be His Candles, spreading that light throughout the darkness of these days.” She said, “Oh, I’ve never looked at the Mass and adoration that way.” I replied, you’re in good company! But now’s the time to appreciate these enormous realities a little bit more. Please consider coming to daily Mass and to our Monday Holy Hours, so that Jesus, the Light of the World, may make you his living candle and living light as we head forward during these great challenges all of us are about to face.