A Catholic teenage boy took his Muslim friend to Church one Sunday morning. After the Mass, he decided to give his friend a tour of the Church. At the end of the tour, they were about stepping out when the Muslim friend pointed toward the sanctuary and asked, “What is in that golden box up there?” The Catholic boy answered, “Sorry, I forgot to tell you. That is the Tabernacle. Inside it is the Blessed Sacrament, which is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the God we worship.” The Muslim boy asked, “Do you believe that is your God?” The Catholic boy confidently answered, “Sure, very well, I do believe that is my God?” The Muslim boy then said, “But I don’t believe that is your God. I don’t even believe that you believe that is your God. For if I ever get to think that my God is in that box, I would not be disrespectful in the Church the way I have seen you are. I would never like to leave the Church.”
Today’s Gospel passage raises more questions than answers. How can a dishonest steward be praised by his master? Is the charge against the steward true or false? Who is the master who commended the steward; Jesus or the rich man? The steward was praised because of what he did when he discovered that he was going to lose his job. He went to his master’s debtors and reduced the amounts on record that they owed. The one who owed one hundred measures of olive oil was told to write fifty. The one who owed one hundred kors of wheat was told to write eighty. Why did the master commend him when he cheated his master by reducing the amount owed by the debtors? There are two different ways scholars look at this. One view has it that the steward cheated his master when he asked the debtors to reduce the figures they owed. The other view has it that the steward was only forfeiting his commission when he asked the debtors to change figures; he was not cutting into his master’s wealth.
In the case of the second interpretation, landlords had their fixed amounts. Their stewards or agents were at liberty to add more numbers to the landlords’ figures, which is where they get their salary in the form of commission. So, this servant was giving up his commission to win friends when he eventually loses his job. The next question that may arise from this interpretation is, “If he did not offend the rich man by changing figures, why was he described as a dishonest steward at the end of the parable?” In answer to that I would say, he was called dishonest at the end of the parable not because of the figures he asked the debtors to change but because of whatever he did at the beginning that led to his loss of the job.
Our take home from the parable is that there is always something good to learn from everyone and everything. Even though this steward was labeled as dishonest, we can learn from his great example of being resourceful. He was losing his job, but he did not see that as the end of life. He immediately thought about what he could do with what he had. He used the little commission he had to win friendship for the future from his master’s debtors. Rather than eat the seed he had, he planted it to yield him more fruits. He was smart to invest in friendship, yet, this friendship is earthly, which will not last forever. As Christians, we believe in heaven, we believe in eternity, we believe in God. How many temporary things are we willing to give up to gain eternal life in heaven?
Jesus says, “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” As children of light, we have something to learn from the children of this world. Even as bad as the devil is, we have something to learn from the devil, and that is perseverance. The devil does not give up. When the devil embraced the project of discouraging Jesus from doing the will of God, he expressed the quality of perseverance/persistence. After he failed in the three consecutive temptations he brought before Jesus in the wilderness; he should have given up, but he did not. He came back to tempt Jesus through Peter. Jesus recognized him and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” At Gethsemane, he came again to suggest to Jesus to pray away the cup of suffering, but Jesus ended the prayer by submitting to God’s will. The devil came through the mouths of those who crucified Jesus and the mouth of one of the thieves urging Jesus to come down from the cross, but he would not submit. The devil still went on to suggest to Jesus that he was being abandoned by his Father. Jesus finally commended himself to the hands of his Father.
When we compare this attitude of perseverance to what we do as Christians, what happens? After praying for an intention for a few times and answers seem not to come, we give up. After confessing a particular sin and we fall into it again, we stop trying. When we come to a one-hour Mass, and it extends beyond one hour by five minutes, we stop coming to Church. We are excited about taking our children to soccer games, movies, etc., but we are too busy to bring them for religious education. When we get to sporting events or movies, we sit where we can watch everything well; we go early and stay until the end. When it comes to worship, we don’t mind going late, we can even stay outside while worship is going on, and we can leave before the end. The dishonest steward gave up his commission to win temporary friends, but we cannot give up our pride to reconcile and win back those who offend us for the sake of eternal life. After this homily, we are going to profess that we believe in God, we believe in the Catholic Church, and all she teaches; and that we believe in eternal life. However, looking at how we live our lives, can we honestly say that we mean what we claim to believe?
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C