XXV Sunday in ordinary Time – Year C- September 22, 2019
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
1) From dishonest to merciful.
According to some experts in Sacred Scripture, chapter 16 of the Gospel of Luke is dedicated to the issue of the use of wealth. First Jesus addresses the disciples with the parable of the dishonest administrator (vv. 1-8) and with some statements about wealth (vv. 9-13) (these two passages are those of this 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time), then there is a series of words dedicated to the Pharisees too fond of money (vv. 16-18) and the parable of the rich man (vv. 19-31) which we will read next Sunday. The theme of wealth is recurrent in the evangelist Luke who does not spare strong words towards the rich.
Since this evangelist is called “the writer of the meekness of Jesus Christ” (Dante Alighieri defined Saint Luke as “scriba mansuetudinis Christi”) and Pope Francis made even more explicit the medieval phrase calling him writer of mercy and cantor of tenderness and of the maternal love of God, I think it is correct to affirm that the Father’s mercy concerns also the use of goods. The son will not do like the foolish master who accumulates wealth moving away from the Father and the brothers. He will do as the administrator does: first he was dishonest because he embezzled what was not his, now he becomes wise and knows what to do. If his Lord gives and forgives everything to everyone, he too begins to give and forgive a little. This is the will of God regarding the use of goods to be welcomed into the home of the heavenly Father.
Moreover, it must be kept in mind that the Gospel does not refer only to the material goods, but above all to the spiritual goods that have value for eternity. At the end the Gospel almost praises the dishonest administrator, not for the things he did that are deplorable, but for the shrewdness with which he acted for a selfish, personalistic and business purpose. And it concludes: ” 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.” (Lk 16: 9).
The general meaning of today’s parable is clear: mercy is placed at the center. It is the mercy that we experience from the Father. If He mercifully loves us, what relationship must we have with things since spiritual life is very material? It is incarnated. We live the spirit in the body, above all in our relationship with things. In fact, it is in things that we mediate our relationship with others. We kill each other to possess them or become brothers if we share them. Today let us reflect on how to live mercy in our relationship with things; then we will see how we live our relationship with people, with the poor and with the brother who sins. In short, the purpose of these reflections is to help us understand how mercy is articulated throughout life.
If the general meaning of today’s Gospel passage is clear, the formulation nevertheless remains curious and has given rise to various interpretations. I’d like to propose one to better understand this curious and not to mention disconcerting phrase of the Redeemer. Here it is:
- A not too 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 that has been fired by his master we read” 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”. (Lk 16:8). With a wise even if dishonest determination the steward, who 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 who, 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 one. 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 to corruption. What the Messiah praises is the wisdom, the determination and the farsightedness of the dishonest steward. He doesn’t approve of his dishonesty. In front of an emergency and 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 are 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 to 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.
- 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 come from God and it is good. It is the way we use it that ruins it to the point of becoming a “sin”. One day we will be called to answer for this sophistication: “unfaithful administrators” in front of the irrevocable judgment of the “Master”. However, 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 gratuitousness and love. It is the “holy cleverness” that Jesus recommends to those who, 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 God 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).
- 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 Himself, alive and present among us. Donating himself He has given us, besides natural qualities, these riches to bring to fruition: his word, the Gospel, Baptism that renews us in the Holy Spirit, the Our Father that we pray to God as children 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 (“φρoνίμως” see note1) relying completely on intelligence and with it measuring every word and every choice. The intelligence that God requires is not the one of a better knowledge or of the “know-how.” It rather consists of making decisions based on a target, it is “the bow of knowledge “(Paul Claudel[i]) of the ship of our life sailing toward eternity. Intelligence teaches us not to stop at what is “now” but to look to the 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)
Saint Augustine of Hippo
The unjust steward
- That servant saw that his master was going to order him to vacate his job, and he took thought for the future, and said to himself, My master is going to
throw me out of the job. What am I to do? I am unable to dig, I am ashamed to beg. Hard work rules out one solution, shame the other. But as he racked his brains over the problem, he wasn’t left without a solution. I have hit upon what I must do, he said. He summoned his master’s debtors, brought out their files. Tell me, you, how much do you owe? And he said, A hundred barrels of oil. Sit down, quickly make it fifty; take your bill. And to another, You there, how much do you owe? A hundred bushels of wheat. Sit down, quickly make it eighty. Take your file (Lk 16:3-7). What he reckoned was this: “When my master throws me out of the job, these people will take me in, and I will not be forced by want either to dig or to beg.”
Why Jesus told this parable
- Why did the Lord Jesus Christ present us with this parable? He didn’t approve, surely, of that cheat of a servant; he cheated his master, he stole from him, and didn’t make it up from his own pocket. On top of that he also did some extra pilfering; he caused his master further loss, in order to prepare a little nest of quiet and security for himself after he lost his job. Why did the Lord set this before us? Not because that servant cheated, but because he exercised foresight for the future, to make Christians blush, who make no such provision, when even a cheat is praised for his ingenuity. I mean, this is what he added: Behold, the children of this age are more prudent than the children of light. They perpetrate frauds in order to secure their future. In what life, after all, did that steward insure himself like that? What one was he going to quit when he bowed to his master’s decision? He was insuring himself for a life that was going to end; won’t you insure yourself for one that is eternal? So don’t go in for cheating, but, he said, make friends for yourselves, with the mammon of iniquity make yourselves friends (Lk 16:8-9).
This means giving alms
- Mammon is the Hebrew word for riches, just as in Punic the word for profit is mamon. So what are we to do? What did the Lord command? Make yourselves friends with the mammon of iniquity, so that they too, when you begin to fail, may receive you into eternal shelters (Lk 16:9). It’s easy, of course, to understand that we must give alms, that a helping hand must be given to the needy, because it is Christ who receives it in them. It’s what he said himself: When you did it for one of the least of mine, you did it for me (Mt 25:40). Again, he said somewhere else, Whoever gives one of my disciples just a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, amen I tell you, he shall not lose his reward (Mt 10:42). We can understand that we have to give alms, and that we mustn’t really pick and choose about whom we give them to, because we are unable to sift through people’s hearts. When you give alms to all and sundry, then you will reach a few who deserve them. You are hospitable, you keep your house ready for strangers; let in the unworthy, in case the worthy should be excluded. You cannot, after all, be a judge and sifter of hearts.
Although, even if you could: “He’s a bad fellow, he isn’t a good man”; I myself will add, “There’s still your enemy. If your enemy is hungry, feed him (Rom 12:20; Prv 25:21). If you are obliged to do good even to your enemy, how much more to someone unknown to you, because even if he’s a bad man, still he isn’t an enemy.” We can understand very well that people who do this sort of thing are acquiring friends for themselves, who will receive them into eternal shelters, when they have been turned out of this job or agency. After all, we are all stewards, and we have to do something with whatever has been entrusted to us in this life, so that we can account for it to the great householder. And from the one to whom more has been entrusted, a stricter account will be required.†15 The first reading that was chanted terrified everybody, and above all it terrified those who are set over whole communities, whether they are the rich, or kings, or princes, or judges, whether they are bishops, or those in charge of churches.†16 We are all, every single one of us, going to give an account of our own particular job or agency to the householder. The agency itself is only for a time, the agent’s reward is forever.
But if we conduct this agency in such a way that we can give a good account of it, we can be sure of having greater things entrusted to us after the lesser ones. Be in charge, he said, of five properties (Lk 19:19); that was the master speaking to his servant who gave a good account of the money which he had received in order to invest it. He is calling us to greater things if we do well. But because it’s difficult in a large agency, not to be at fault in many ways, that’s why we shouldn’t stop giving alms, so that when we come to present our accounts, we may find not so much the stern, incorruptible judge as the kindhearted father. If he begins to examine everything, after all, he will certainly find plenty to condemn. We ought to come to the aid of the wretched on this earth, so that we may be treated according to what’s written: Blessed are the merciful, since God will show mercy to them (Mt 5:7); while in another place, Judgment without mercy upon those who have not shown mercy (Jas 2:13).
 The Greek text uses “φρoνίμως” that means “craftily”. The English translation uses the adverb wisely 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.
 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”.
[i] 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”.