1) A not so much baffling statement.
In today’s Gospel Jesus makes a statement that at first sight seems baffling. At the end of the parable of the dishonest steward who has been fired by his master we read ”And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently[i]. For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light”.(Lk 16:8).
With a wise even if dishonest determination the steward that had to leave his job because of his dishonesty, called one by one all the debtors and cancelled part of their debts. Acting in this way the clever swindler had made so many new friends that, when he was fired, they never let him starve.
With stealing and cheating he had done well for him and for many others. He was a thief but a clever thief. If, for the salvation of their soul, men would use the cleverness that this thief had used for the wellness of his body, how many more would convert to the faith of the Kingdom!
This narration doesn’t end with an endorsement or an encouragement toward corruption. What the Messiah praises is the wisdom, the determination and the farsightedness of the dishonest steward. He doesn’t approve his dishonesty. In front of an emergency, when his future was at risk, that man showed three qualities: quick decision, great cleverness and good foresight for a future that was becoming uncertain. He has acted quickly and cleverly (even if not honestly) because he wanted a secure future. This – Jesus says to his disciples – is what you must do to secure not your material future that last only few years, but the eternal one. Do as this steward does; make friends with the ones that one day, when you’ll be in need, will welcome you. These powerful friends are the poor because Christ considers what is given to the poor as given to him. Saint Augustine used to say “The poor, if we want, are our courier and our porters: they allow us to transfer already now our goods in the house that is being built in the afterworld”. It is a teaching that the Church reminds all the newlyweds when in the benediction of the Rite of Marriage the priest says, “Recognize God among the poor and the suffering so that one day they might welcome you in the house of the Father.” The friends we must care for are the poor because on Judgment Day they will suggest to God the ones to be invited to the banquet in heaven.
2) We too are called to be administrators
Through the parable of the “wise administrator” the Master not only invites us to be provident, but also reminds us that we are the “administrators” to whom He has entrusted the goods of the Earth. We do not own the goods entrusted to us by God; we are their “administrators”. “Dishonesty is to embezzle them and to use them without considering the intentions of the “Owner” who has given them to us so that we could share them. Greediness without limits and egoistic use ruin the gift and make it “dishonest’. What we are and what we have, comes from God and it is good. It is how we use it that ruins it to the point of becoming a “sin”. Of this sophistication we will one day be called to answer as “unfaithful administrators “in front of the irrevocable judgment of the “Master”. But there is an unsuspected way out: the wealth that we have made ”dishonest” can be redeemed and brought back to goodness if we share it under the sign of donation and love. It is the “holy cleverness” that Jesus recommends to the ones that, in recognizing themselves as “dishonest administrators,” are open to the healing and redeeming doing of God and become His providential and good hand. Let’s ask God, the good Father, to give us the gift of using devoutly the Earth‘s goods so that we can experiment the joy of sharing. Might He free us from egoistic possession and make us an instrument of His love. We must be wise because if we have clear in our minds the Christian sense of life, with the light of his Spirit we can “value wisely the goods of the Earth in the continuous search of the goods of Heaven”(Prayer after Communion in the Mass of the Tuesday of the first week of Advent).
3) Administrators of the goods of Heaven
Let’ s not forget that the treasure that Jesus has entrusted to his disciples and friends is the Kingdom of God, that is He alive and present among us. In donating himself to us, besides natural qualities, He has given us these riches to grow: his word, the Gospel, Baptism that renews us in the Holy Spirit, the Our Father that we pray to God as sons united in the Son, his mercy that he has commanded to take to every man and woman and the sacrament of his sacrificed Body and spilled Blood.
The consecrated Virgins are an example of how to be prudent (fronimos) relying completely on intelligence and measuring on it every word and every choice. The intelligence that God requires is not the one of a better knowledge or of the “know-how.” It consists of making decisions based on a fixed aim, it is “the bow of knowledge “(Paul Claudel[ii]) of the ship of our life that goes toward eternity. Intelligence teaches us not to stop to what is “now” but to look to the final destination. In fact “You have renounced marriage for the sake of Christ. Yet loving wisdom chooses those who make the sacrifice of marriage for the sake of the love of which it is the sign. You renounce the joys of human marriage but cherish all that it foreshadows. You give yourselves wholly to Christ, the Son of the ever-virgin Mary and the heavenly Bridegroom of those who in his honor dedicate themselves to lasting virginity.” (Rite of the Consecration, n°24)
[i] The Greek text uses fronimos that means “wise”. The English translation uses the adverb prudently or shrewdly. The liturgical translation helps us to understand that Jesus doesn’t praise dishonesty and the Greek text helps us to understand the reason of the praise and the invitation to be wise, cleaver and prudent.
[ii] Paul Claudel (Villeneuve-sur-Fere August 6, 1868 – Paris February 23, 1955) was a French poet, playwright and
diplomat. According to his writings, his conversion to Catholicism happened in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris listening to the Magnificat during Christmas Mass 1886 “In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with such force, with such relief of all my being, a conviction so powerful, so certain and without any room for doubt, that ever since, all the books, all the arguments, all the hazards of my agitated life have never shaken my faith, nor to tell the truth have they even touched it.”
I believe that the inspirational motif of his poetry is the “vocation” of truth, goodness and joy among men. For this reason the poet is called to show to his brothers and sisters ”the holy reality that has been given to us and in which we have been placed”.
XXV Sunday in ordinary Time – Year C- September 22, 2013
Am 8:4-7; Ps 113; 1 Tim 2:1-8; Lk 16:1-13
How to be righteous and wise administrators
IV Sunday after Saint John’s Martyrdom
Pr 9:1-6; Ps 33; 1 Cor 10:14-21; Jh 6:51-59
Live bread descended from Heaven