25th Ordinary Sunday
Tony van Vuuren
LUKE 16: 1-13
Parables often challenge us as we attempt to translate them for our modern lives; it is usually difficult to grasp the point Jesus is trying to make when we first hear a parable. The parable of the dishonest steward can initially be easily misunderstood; as I am sure happened in a number of prayer group discussions this last week. This is my take on it!
Let’s start off by not getting sidetracked or bogged down; we need to understand up front that Jesus is not condoning the dishonesty or irresponsibility of the steward; and certainly isn’t promoting shady business deals; when He tells the story of the rich man praising his shrewd steward.
Today’s parable needs to be understood in the realization that it was against Jewish law to charge interest on loans of money. Instead of using bankers, the Jews earned interest by lending out produce instead of money. Here in this particular case the rich man was probably an absentee landlord who loaned olive oil and wheat to his debtors expecting to receive more of each commodity in return than what he loaned out, the difference being the equivalent of interest charges on his loans. It was understood that the master’s steward would also earn his commission out of the differential amount, the amount between what was borrowed and the amount of the payback.
The steward’s dishonesty had been discovered and we are only told that he had been wasteful, which could mean that he had been negligent, running his master’s business into the ground, devoid of creativity and imagination; and probably making very little profit. Whatever it was; he was reported to his master; and told to pack his bags.
With his impending dismissal the steward has to act quickly. While still his master’s legitimate agent, he goes to the debtors and removes the interest from their loans; they would only be required to repay the principal. Another explanation has it that the steward removed only his own commission from the debts so as to win friends among his master’s debtors. So he is not robbing his master of any interest.
The debtors seem to have been people of means. Their debts were large, so they certainly weren’t peasants. Once befriended by the steward these people would be able to return the favour when he got fired. Note that he gets the debtors to alter their bonds in their own hand writing! (Blackmail in the offing?)
It is at this point that the master praises the steward for his shrewdness, because if the steward had applied such smart thinking in the daily running of the business he would have been a very successful manager.
Jesus is not applauding the steward’s deceit, of course, but rather his shrewdness. He is saying that we Christians should be just as shrewd in relation to the things of the Kingdom. So often we are too timid in relation to the things of the Spirit.
Jesus is concerned with the lack of spiritual foresight on the part of His followers.
He presents us with the example of the zealous foresightfulness of the shrewd steward dealing so astutely with his borrowers; and wishing that the “children of light” His own followers, would be at least as enterprising in caring for the future of their souls.
Christ is saying that we should put just as much effort into understanding our faith as we do into mastering the skills and fields of study we need to carry out our profession. Many of us are quite uninformed and naive when it comes to matters of religion; and I include myself big time!
Spiritual matters are not just the domain of the clergy; they are the concern of all. One of the hallmarks of modern society is that we don’t really trust experts to advise us while we are kept in ignorance.
How often don’t we search the Internet about an ailment before we go to the doctor? We get on Google before we talk to our insurance broker. We ask everyone we know about which might be the best school for our children.
This is not because we disrespect professionals but because we want to have an informed discussion with them. We want their expert help to enable us to come to the right decisions and to do this it is better if we come to them with the right questions and know in advance the possible pitfalls.
In relation to our faith, surely we have a similar duty to inform ourselves and become mini-experts. Yes, the clergy are important and they certainly have a special role to play, but the relationship that is more important than anything else is the one between Christ and ourselves. If that relationship is to flourish then it is important that we are well informed about everything to do with our faith such as the doctrines and teaching of the Church, the forms and methods of prayer, and so on.
This was something that Cardinal John Henry Newman, who is being beatified by Pope Benedict in Birmingham today, was very keen on. He understood that the religious education of the laity was vital for us all. He understood that the doctrine of the Church was not the possession of the Bishops and Priests and that while development of doctrine was essential it could not be done without the consent of the vast mass of the faithful. It is as important to study and inform ourselves about the faith as it is to be at the top of our secular profession.
Cardinal Newman’s spirituality was intense and intellectual. He was someone who was driven by principle even though this cost him many sacrifices. Most of all, as an effective educator he was interested in change. But change is not easy and most of us tend to avoid change whenever it presents itself.
One of Cardinal Newman’s well known sayings is:
“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
He understood that in order for us to make progress we have to frequently change our mindset, while remaining all the time true to our fundamental Christian principles.
Maintaining the balance between the need for constant change in our lives and the maintenance of the eternal truths of the Gospel is central to the life of every Christian. It comes from the very essence of Christian discipleship; each day we are confronted by the challenge of the Gospel. We are challenged to reform our lives, to grow in our faith and to deepen the love we have for everyone but most of all for Christ our Lord.
There is therefore no room for inertia in the life of a Christian. The eternal truths are not some inanimate block of stone, but have a certain dynamic quality that stems from the very fact that they are eternal. The world changes and so does our reaction to it, but our response is informed by these truths which are ever ancient, and ever new.
The parable challenges us all to change and become smart managers or stewards.
Me a manager, you might say? Yes, we are all called to be managers, whatever age. God has entrusted the whole of His creation into our hands as His managers. Jesus Christ, in addition, entrusts the kingdom of God – the kingdom of love, justice and peace – into our hands as his stewards.
Peace and harmony, and the renewal of all things in Christ, are the business of us all, collectively and individually. Jesus calls it the kingdom of God. Our business as followers of Christ, non-ordained as well as ordained believers, is to help bring about the kingdom of God starting with ourselves. We have all been given the necessary resources to do this.
We have been equipped with the truth of faith,
we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts, and
we have been given time.
The challenge is to change and to bring these gifts to fruition; because sooner or later we shall all be called upon to render an account of how we have invested and managed these resources.
Ref: Fr Alex for the Cardinal Newman info.