Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 22, 2019)
Luke’s Jesus is vividly aware of our attraction to money and possessions and how we pursue them. Last Sunday we heard about the prodigal son who asked prematurely for his inheritance. In fact, the identical Greek word used to describe the steward in today’s Gospel as “squandering” his master’s wealth is the word used of the prodigal son “squandering” his inheritance. Next Sunday, we will hear about the rich man luxuriating while Lazarus, a poor man, pitifully sits at his door.
Luke is making it patently clear that wealth is not a measure of one’s worth. John Calvin in the 16th century asserted that wealth was a sign of God’s pleasure with us. This is cited as the cause of the “Protestant Work Ethic.” People, consciously or unconsciously, began to work harder to become wealthier to look “blessed.” The Joneses became a recognized family name. The rat race evolved!
Today’s gospel is surely an offbeat story - unusual for Jesus. When called on the carpet for squandering, the steward knows two things: his master is honest, and, more importantly to him, he is incredibly merciful. The master does not turn the steward over to be whipped until he has payed the last penny. He simply dismisses, fires him.
The slick steward thinks on his feet and comes up with a clever plan that hinges on his master’s mercy. He has to work fast - before the word is out that he has been fired and lacks the authority to implement his clever plan.
He plans to take care both of himself and make his former master look good. He hopes that the master will not later want to appear ungenerous after appearing so generous to his debtors. The slick steward “summons” the debtors and asks them what they owe “his master.” He tells them “write quickly” for good reason.
He already has the mercy of his master for his past misdeeds and now wants to gain the good will of his master’s debtors in a hope for future security. It is not a foolproof plan; it may backfire. First, the debtor who deflates the debt may not want to deal with this manager in the future whom he knows to be untrustworthy. Also, the debtor was told to take his bill and reduce it in his own handwriting. He thereby becomes a co-conspirator in the plot.
As we all know, the duplicity and dishonesty is not praiseworthy; Jesus praises the quick thinking and ingenuity of the steward. Jesus is encouraging us to be as ingenious in doing his work, the building of his kingdom.
A parish not far to the north in the archdiocese of Philadelphia produces ads and rents space during advent in local movie theatres: “Come home for Christmas,” attempting to welcome and bring back alienated Catholics. The same parish supplied insulated holders for hot coffee cups with the same theme to attract the alienated. The ideas worked; many returned to church; the rice also flourished with people who felt that they found a place where they felt wanted.
Elsewhere, a divorce and separated group advertised their availability for support with notices on the bulletin boards of local, large, food stores where newly divorced Catholics might stop to check on local resources in their new-found state. It worked.
Jesus isolated a single trait in the manager and praised his imaginative solution, not his dishonesty. Our imagination is often an untapped source since we come from an age that has stressed the importance of our intellect, not our imagination.