Are we as capable as the wicked steward in securing our future with God?

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Amos 8:4-7

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! “When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!” The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!

1 Timothy 2:1-8

Beloved: First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony at the proper time. For this I was appointed preacher and apostle — I am speaking the truth, I am not lying —, teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.

Luke 16:1-13

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 the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ The steward 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 are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

One of Jesus’ preferred methods of teaching is through parables. Though His parables are simple, often making use of everyday things, they conveyed messages that are deep and memorable. Like the parable of the unjust steward in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading; the story is straightforward and the deeds of the steward are rather commonplace. What is surprising and disturbing is the commendation that the steward receives. How can we expect to hear from Jesus that a dishonest steward who swindles his employer’s wealth and later even stealing more from him, gains praise from his employer? Certainly a puzzling parable that many of us find difficulty to understand!

To understand this parable’s unusual ending, let us first focus on the steward himself. We cannot but appreciate the decisiveness, resourcefulness and prudence of the steward when faced with the specter of disgrace and poverty. He does not waste time to justify himself with the master, nor he allows himself to have any illusion of finding another employment. His concern is to secure his future now. He is quick to come up with a solution and immediately acts on it. This is what Jesus’ comment about; he is not approving the steward’s immorality, but his cleverness. Jesus purposely sets the scene to draw from the story an important but unexpected lesson – the disappointing fact that, worldly-minded people show a keener sense of shrewdness to secure their future without delay than Jesus’ disciples do about the Kingdom of God.

While it is nothing wrong to provide ourselves and our loved ones a good life and a promising future, we should use our resources and abilities wisely and honestly. We should understand that we are that steward and God is the master. One day, each one of us has to give our master an account of what we have been entrusted – talent, time, wealth etc. Cardinal Thomas Collins, in his pastoral letter on
stewardship (October 7, 2018), reminds us of God’s gracious gifts and the proper attitude in using these gifts, namely, to live gratefully in service to others through sharing of these gifts. We are to act as responsible trustees with a deeper spirit of stewardship. He further points out that “the ideas of servant, disciple, and apostle – so central in the scriptures – all include the idea of stewardship”.

And stewardship is not limited to only looking after earthly assets; for no matter how successful one looks after one’s possessions, like the rich fool in Luke’s Gospel (rf Lk 12: 13-21), these will all pass away. But if we apply the same shrewdness in building God’s kingdom here on earth, we lay up for ourselves the inexhaustible treasures in heaven where “neither rust nor moth destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.” (Mt 6:20). Are we as capable as the wicked steward in securing our future with God?

Posted: September 22, 2019

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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