18 PENTECOST, PROPER XX - C - 16 LUKE 16. 1-13
Of all the passages in Luke, today’s gospel reading is the most confusing and to some even disturbing. The problem comes in discerning what it is Jesus is really saying to his disciples; what it is he is commending to them by using the illustration of what some call the dishonest steward.
The parable is spoken directly to his disciples, that is, the twelve, including Judas who loved money. We don’t know that anyone else was standing close enough to hear it. By telling the parable to the twelve Jesus intimates that some “unfaithfulness” in respect to money was observable in the company, that is, some desire to cling to it, corporately at least.
Jesus tells his disciples the story of a rich man who receives a report that his steward is not looking out for his interests as he should. He calls his steward on the carpet. He is told to open the books and give an accounting and then the bad news, he is fired.
It is bad enough that he got caught, and that he is losing his position as steward, but he cannot bear the idea that he will lose face in the community, and have nothing to look forward to. “I am not strong enough to dig,” he says, “and I am ashamed to beg.” So he devises a plan to keep the relationships going that were acquired while he was steward in hopes that one day he can call on them in time of need.
Stewards were like tax collectors, they worked on commission. The steward in the story was not accused of fraud, but of mismanagement. We don’t know the details of what he did that caused him to be dismissed, but we do know what he did in order to maintain his friends after his dismissal; he cut his commission.
The owner got his due without interest. The debtor paid less, and the steward prepared for his future by obligating those he helped. One day he would call on them for a favor. The steward, we say, was prudent.
To be prudent is to be wisely cautious in practical affairs, careful of one’s own interests, careful in providing for the future. The steward in today’s story fulfilled the definition and then some. Jesus commends the steward’s prudence, and not his dishonesty. Just as the unrighteous are prudent in the affairs of this world, Jesus says, so the righteous must be prudent in regards to the matters of the kingdom of God.
Preparing for the future is part of the lesson to the disciples; a lesson they must learn in order to teach it to others. The steward put others in his debt so that they will be obligated to him. He foresees his future, and provides for it. Where does our future lie?
Too often we go from event to event in life as a way of foreseeing our future and make our preparations accordingly. Preparing for college, for example, then life after college, that is, getting a job. Then for some there is preparing for marriage, then life after marriage.
As parents we prepare for the future of our children, seeing that they get a chance at education and having more opportunities than we did. Finally, through all the above, we prepare for retirement and hope we live long enough to get there and have enough money to live on, if and when we do. Such is life.
What we don’t prepare for is death. None of us likes to think about that. Although it is inevitable, we put it on the back burner, as we like to say. As Christians, however, our chief concern should be our preparation for getting into heaven after death. Christ has gone before us to prepare a place for us. We need to be prepared to meet Him when the time comes.
Some people, however, prefer to live in the present moment without regard, it seems, for the future either here on earth or beyond. But to dismiss all thought of the future is foolish. And again, as Christians, concern for the future is a necessary consideration. And this too is the point Jesus is making in the parable of the prudent steward.
We need to understand that the future does not begin at some distant time. It began for all us at baptism where we were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’ own forever. We may, from time to time forget who we are in terms of our relationship to Him who died and rose again, but He never forgets that we are His. What we do and say now has an effect on our future for our future is with God.
Our hope for the future is shaped by our today and, God willing, our tomorrow. When we were baptized we were baptized into the future. When we receive the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the future comes to us, as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to which we hope one day to be seated. For us, as Christians the future is now. Therefore, we are called to live as we expect to live when the fullness of the heavenly kingdom is ushered in.
If the first part of today’s gospel lesson is about preparing for our future; the latter part is how we are to go about it as stewards of God. As stewards of God our concern should not be in the accumulation of wealth and possessions but their circulation. Like the steward in the parable, we work on commission, being allowed to use a portion of these goods for ourselves in return for service to the community.
The key to the last part is faithfulness. Money is not a possession it is a trust. God entrusts property to people and expects it to be used to His glory and the welfare of others. Money points beyond itself to the “true riches” that awaits us in the life to come. We can hardly guess what they might be, but there are “true riches” which really belong to us, in a way that money doesn’t, if we learn faithfulness here and now.
Unfaithfulness to the trust committed to us in such small matters, such as money and property, is a sign that we will be equally unfaithful in the higher things. If we misuse what we have been given by God in trust, we show that we are not to be trusted with the higher stewardship of the Mysteries of God. That is what Jesus meant when he said we cannot serve two masters.
Life as ordered by God, depends on giving and taking. It is not selfishness, but humility, that is, our willingness to faithfully use the gifts and talents God has so graciously given us in the service of others. Knowing that one day we will have to give an account of ourselves as God’s stewards. Faithfulness in the use of what has been entrusted to us paves the way for the future and the inheritance of the “true riches” which really belong to us, and awaits us in the world to come. AMEN+