We have two very interesting readings for our reflection this Sunday. The first comes from the prophet Amos. He lashes out in condemnation of the businessmen of his day. “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy, and destroy the poor of the land!” He then enumerates how they cheat and abuse the poor, and reminds them that God will not forget the suffering they’ve caused.
The Gospel passage that follows stands unique in the New Testament. Throughout the Gospels we read Jesus’ wonderful par- ables – short stories teaching about the Kingdom of God. Today’s parable is the only one of Jesus’ parables that’s not about the Kingdom. It’s a story that stands as the antithesis of the Kingdom. It’s a glimpse into the systemic corruption of the earthly kingdom.
Jesus presents a situation in which a hired steward is going to be fired for squandering his employer’s wealth. The steward, in
those days, was the CEO and general man- ager of his employer’s businesses, wealth and often his household. We’re not told what he did exactly. He may have made bad business deals, or perhaps found ways to enrich himself through this most important position. It doesn’t make that much difference to the story. It’s the steward’s response to his firing that’s central to the parable.
The corrupt steward goes immediately to his employer’s business ledger to find out which of his clients have outstanding ac- counts payable. He contacts two of them, probably the most prestigious accounts, and the ones that owe the most. He then cooks the books. One client owes one hundred measures of olive oil. The steward rewrites the contract to show a debt of fifty measures of oil. Another owes a hundred kors of wheat. He chops it down to eighty. The two clients would have been very pleased by this bit of corruption.
The part that really stinks in this story is that this manipulation of the books is a personal investment by the steward. This move will entangle these two clients in his web of thievery. He did them a huge favor. Now they owe him. As he says: “When I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.” They can’t say what he did to anyone because they would be exposing their role in the thievery.
The cynical chuckle that concludes the story is provided by the employer. “The master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.” That’s the way of the world, the earthly kingdom.
The parable having been delivered, Jesus then addressed his disciples. Our translation of his message is confusing. “I tell you, make friends with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Let’s interpret the sentence in this way. As “children of the light,” we must be trust- worthy even “with dishonest wealth” so that we can be trusted with the true wealth of the Kingdom. We have to learn to navigate through the corruption that so often surrounds money. The children of the light can’t be entangled in the world’s web of corruption. Jesus concluded this parable with his well-known principle. “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
I conclude this reflection with a challenging anecdote. One of the great “children of the light,” was Mother Teresa. To continue running the many institutions she established throughout the world, she was continually putting out her hand begging for money. Many people responded to her pleas. I’m sure she thanked them personally – in the name of the poor she was serving. In the public arena, when she wasn’t asking for financial assistance, but was teaching the principles of the Kingdom, she was often heard to say, “Don’t tell me how much money you’ve given away. Tell me how much you have left.” Mother Teresa knew the meaning of detachment, and the liberation it brings. Jesus put it this way to his disciples, “the foxes have dens and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Each of us, rich and poor alike, have a great deal to ponder today.