25 Sunday C - Stewardship - Homilies

Gospel Reading: Luke 16:1-13

Michel de Verteuil
General Textual Comments

The passage is in two movements:
- verses 1 to 7, the parable;
- verses 8 to 13, a collection of six sayings of Jesus, all connected with the parable.

Most people find this parable one of the most difficult to interpret, seeming to condone the dishonesty of the steward. The main problem here is our tendency to read the gospels and the parables particularly, in a rational, moralizing way. We then find ourselves passing judgement on the parables:  “a touching story but ….” With this approach to our parable we have to do mental gymnastics to explain how the master could “praise the dishonest steward”.

We are not meant to read parables in such a heady, moralizing (basically self-righteous) way. We must enter freely into them (“with a willing suspension of disbelief”), get a feel for the characters, and gradually let them reveal some deep lesson about human living.

With this parable, for example, we must identify with the steward, allow him to become a person whom we feel to praise, just like the master in the parable did. If we look at him in that perspective, we find that he is very likable, not efficient – “wasteful” as the parable says – but very likeable. We imagine a person who knows how to enjoy life. He doesn’t like hard work – “Dig? I am not strong enough” – but he likes people and enjoys the company of his friends.
Note that he didn’t take the masters money for himself, he was “wasteful” in that he did not force his master’s debtors to pay. Even his dishonesty was not for himself but for the debtors. The steward in other words is exactly the kind of free person that Jesus liked, the tax collectors and sinners he kept company with. He  much preferred them to the upright but very boring and self-righteous Pharisees. Once we have identified the steward we interpret the seven sayings in the light of his character.

In verse 8, it is said that he is “astute” meaning that he has his values right. In terms of the parable, the false value is “property,” the true value is making friends.
Verse 9 says that money has its value but then explains that its value emerges only when we put it at the disposal of our friends. The “tents of eternity” means friendship which lasts.
Verses 9 to 12 then tease out the difference between false and true values, “little things” and “great things” (verse 10), tainted and genuine riches (verse 11),  what is “not yours” and what is “your very own” (verse 12).

In verse 13 the terms “mammon”, or “money”, stand for material things, “God” is the truth.

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Sean Goan
Gospel Comment 

For those who think that the message of Jesus is altogether too other worldly today’s parable will come as something of a surprise, and to others who like the idea of a pious Jesus not concerned with the things of this world it will come as a shock.
On the face of it Jesus appears to be encouraging some sharp practice when he tells of the man who, on being fired by his employer, tries to make sure that he will be able to call in a few favours when he leaves. We may take it for granted that the point of the story is not that Jesus wants to encourage dishonesty but rather he wants his followers to be aware that they live in the real world and that they should always seek to make the best of the situation in which they find themselves. The context for this parable is the right use of money and Jesus is unambiguous when it comes to this. Money, tainted as it is, still has a place in the life of believers: it should be used to help the poor.

Reflection

Today’s readings show two sides of witnessing to the faith. On the one hand Amos is trenchant in his public criticism of the scandalous behaviour of his fellow citizens. His stand will get him into serious difficulties with the authorities and, according to some traditions, his death. Paul, on the other hand, wants believers to witness to their faith by the good, quiet lives they lead. As a new movement he understands that more people will be attracted to it by the good example of its members. The same tension can and does exist for believers today. There is a great need for the fearless prophetic witness which calls attention to the oppressive injustices of our time. Equally, Christians must also show by their lives that they are not simply political agitators but people committed to the values of the kingdom of God. When money becomes our master then God takes a poor second place and the consequences of that choice are everywhere to be seen.

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Thomas O’Loughlin,
Homily Notes
 

1. We have all met the unjust steward or, at least, heard of him in the media. There is something attractive about the way he clearly sees the predicament he is in, his realistic grasp of his own personal make-up (‘to dig I am unable and to beg I am ashamed’), and the speed and efficiency with which he puts his survival plan into action. It is a beautiful little story of a master storyteller, and we can see in an instant that ‘the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own gen­eration than the sons of light’.

2. The challenge is, however, that we who are listening to the story have declared ourselves – by the very fact that we have gathered for the Eucharist – to be the daughters and the sons of light. So how are we to act swiftly, with clarity of foresight, and with wisdom?

3. When we wish to preach about God’s gifts – the whole of reality is his gift – we need to have some convenient image and rhetoric so that what we say does not sound so all-embracing as to be sound vapid. Here is a possible way to approach it.

4. We are called to act wisely with the gifts the father has given us: he has stretched out his hand toward us and we can name five specific gifts he had given us. These are like the fingers of his hand.

First, God has given us the gift of freedom and understand­ing. We are people who can appreciate the universe, can see beauty, can feel joy and sorrow and sympathy and elation. We can know the good and grow in our appreciation of the whole mystery of life and being. We are people who can make a difference – this is freedom – and build together a wonderful edifice or we can cause mayhem, destruction and chaos. Think of the genius of modern medicine and the gen­ius of modern weapons. Both are a tribute to our inventive­ness, understanding, skill, and creativity – all God-given virtues. But we have the choice of using skills for building or tearing down – the God-given ability to choose our path.

Second, God has given us the cosmos, the good earth that is our home, the context of our lives, and that sustains us. This is the same material creation that can reveal the presence and action of God to us. This is the creation for which we thank the Father at every Eucharist when we use its fruits to be the bearers of the gift of heavenly life. ‘Blessed are you Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have’ this bread, this wine, fruits of the earth which become for us the bread of life and cup of eternal salvation. But do we use our under­standing to appreciate it in its richness and use it wisely so that it can sustain generations to come as it sustains us? Or, do we use our brainpower to find out how to ransack it and ‘use it up’? Wisdom is seeing it as our God-given home, a place of wonder, and treating it with respect.

Third, we have the gift of our human family. We can work to­gether as brothers and sisters or we can try to live at the ex­pense of those around us. The work of development which is the work of peace, and which tries to bring transformation to all who suffer or are in need, takes the same amount of re­sources, organisation, and skill, as does the work of war, ag­gression, and exploitation. Both are exercises of understand­ing and freedom. The wisdom of the children of light is to ap­preciate the choice and choose the way of peace.

Fourth, we have the gift of human love. We come to life in the context of human love, we are sustained by it, we discover who we are in it, and in human love we discover the God who is love. But here again we are creatures with freedom: we can act wisely and human love can become the gate of heaven or it can become another scene of exploitation and destruction.

And fifth, we have the gift of God’s voice within our hearts. Do we hear it as the voice of wisdom or do we try to drawn it out as something that gets in our way?

5. God has stretched forth his hand toward us and entrusted us with much. We are called to act with wisdom, to use our free­dom well, and then in being just and wise stewards to dis­cover the Giver of all. 

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Scriptural Prayer

Lord, we thank you for free spirited people you send us
in our families, workplaces, parish communities, neighbourhoods.
Like the steward in Jesus’ parable, they are often labeled wasteful or
dishonest but, like the master, we feel admiration for them, recognizing
that they know how to deal with people better than we church people who
are supposed to be children of the light.

So often we make a fuss about having accounts right,
and everything in our house in the right place,
whereas for them it is people who count.
We end up respected but lonely;
they however, even though earthly success fails them,
win themselves many friends who welcome to them into their hearts
and are forever faithful to them.

They value secondary virtues as secondary not primary,
- punctuality, good order, neatness, obedience to authorities -
but they can be trusted to value what is truly important
- courtesy to the poor, trust, the willingness to admit mistakes.
They know that power, popularity and influence are always tainted,
and not to be made much of – just like money;
they can be trusted with genuine riches like good friends, children, health, nature.

They set no great store by things like clothes, fancy houses and cars
Which are not part of the people who own them;
they have a good share of what is their very own
- honesty, sincerity, integrity, openness.

They know that in life we have to choose our values.
We cannot have two sets of priorities;
if we try, we end up not making one of them a priority.

They are not subject to any material thing, truth is their only master and
they find freedom in being its servants.

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Homilies:

1.     ACP

 Filthy Lucre?

When I was at school, there was an essay in my English reader entitled, “The adventures of a pound note.” God be with the days when a pound  was a lot of money!  What an interesting series of  TV episodes could be made tracing the history of a fifty euro note or a fifty-dollar bill. I think the average banknote has a life-span of about twelve months. After that they are recalled and incinerated. It would be fascinating to follow its history from the moment the fresh crisp note comes off the mint to its burning in the incinerator, some twelve months later. Every well-worn crease on it, every stain on it, has its own story to tell. God only knows where it has been and what it has done, for good or for bad. It has its joyful mysteries and its sorrowful mysteries. It may even have had its glorious mysteries. Its-last owner could have used it to buy a fix of heroin or cocaine, or bribe a government minister to secure a contract, or buy an official’s silence. It could hav been picked from a poor pensioner’s pocket. It may have paid a prostitute for her favours. It may even be blood-stained. It may have been a contribution~ towards the bomb that blasted a casual group of shoppers into eternity and blighted the lives of the widows and orphans left to pick up the pieces. And if it feels crisper and cleaner than usual, it may well be that it has just been “laundered” by drug-barons and arms-traffickers. Such are the sorrowful mysteries of a fifty euro note.

It could also have bought medicine for a sick child or education for a gifted one from a deprived background. And all the countless presents it might have bought to bring a little joy into otherwise bleak lives. It could have been an anonymous donation to any of our world’s countless worthy causes. It could have been a poor person’s contribution to someone more needy than themselves. It could have been to the Third World and back. It could have fed a whole family there for a week.

There is a lot of talk in modern times about devaluation. People complain all the time about the shrinking purchasing power of the money in their pockets and they reminisce ruefully about what their ten-pound note could have bought, even as little as five years ago. But in a real sense money is only devalued by the use we make of it. “Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends,” Christ told his disciples, “and so make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity.” We may well be depressed at how little it can buy on High Street, but in the poor back streets of this world, its value never fluctuates.

Oscar Wilde once described a cynic as “one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” A Christian should be the reverse. One who has no interest in the price of anything but knows the value of everything. 

Dealing with money

In today’s gospel, Jesus acknowledges the mind-set of the world, and how such people think and act. He acknowledges that this is not all evil, but he points out that there are lessons to be learned from such “worldly wisdom.” The riches he offers are so much more precious than the riches of the world, and, therefore, should be handled with much greater care.

Jesus speaks about the wisdom of this world, and he says that it can actually be used for good. “Use your worldly resources to make friends. In this way, your generosity stores up a reward for you in heaven.” Not everything in the world is evil. It can, of course, become corruptive, if it dominates and controls our actions and our thinking. He speaks of a wisdom, which is so much greater than earthly wisdom. He tells us that we cannot serve God and money. Money is not an evil, but it can take over, and it can preoccupy to the exclusion of all other interests. Money can be a hard taskmaster when it takes control of us. Unless it is treated as a servant, as something to be used for good, it can become a bully, and take over our lives. 

During the boom there was a construction company whose business was on a large scale. A story is told about one of their building contractors who was approaching the age of retirement. He had become careless and shoddy, and he began cutting corners, using inferior material and taking short cuts. The houses were new, so the faults would not show up straightaway, and he would be out of the business by then. The time of his retiring coincided with what was possibly the most shoddily built house he had ever built. Imagine his surprise, at his retirement party, when his golden handshake was to be presented with the keys of the very last house he had just completed!

Our need for an Amos, Today

It was scandalous how the rich amassed wealth by ruthlessly exploiting and cheating the poor, when fraud and deception were normal in business and banking, when the lawyers were working for the vested interests of the wealthy rather than for justice, when city life had grown corrupt, and when religion had become empty and insincere, mere outward compliance with social custom. No, I’m not listing the ailments of society today; these were the ethical standards in Israel in the days of the prophet Amos, almost 3,000 years ago.

Amos has a sharper message for modern day social behaviour than that of any other Old Testament prophet. He lived in a prosperous period when the threat of war was small, and Israel was enjoying a cultural and economic revival. Expanding trade and commerce brought a steady drift from the country to the cities. But alongside this new prosperity was a new degree of social degradation. The fall away from true religion soon led to a corruption of justice, to wanton and decadent living and the break-up of social cohesion. Amos warned that his would be punished for these wrongs, that her wealth would vanish, her ornate houses would be torn down, and all this was to come true within a generation, when Israel was ruled by the Assyrians, the most hated and feared race in the history of the Middle East.

Writing to Timothy, St Paul quotes the proverb which says, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” It does not say that money itself is the root of all evil, but rather the love of money. Of course money is needed as a means of exchanging goods in every organised society. But a person can become its slave through excessive love of money. It can become a substitute for God in one’s life. In George Bernard Shaw’s play, Major Barbara, when the rich industrialist was asked what was his religion he answered, “Why, I’m a millionaire. That’s my religion!” but life is far more precious than the money we have, the food we eat or the clothes we wear. Possessions are only on loan to us, and in time we must leave them all behind. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,” (Job 1:21), “and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.”

Why was the parable of the Unjust Steward included in the gospel, we might wonder. Surely it was because of the Church’s concern about the proper use of goods from earliest times. Great personal wealth is rarely acquired without some sharp practice, and so Christ refers to money as somehow tainted. By and large our own society, like that of ancient Israel, is organised not so much for the common good, for the welfare of ordinary people of the working class, but for maximum gain for the wealthy and the priveleged few.

In our attitude to money and property we must keep in mind the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the merciful, blessed are those who strive for justice.” Such people will find true self-fulfilment and the greatest reward of all, of possessing God himself for all eternity, or rather of being possessed by God for all eternity.

Bribes and Other Things

In reflecting on the proper use of wealth, talents, and gifts, the homilist may find it helpful to focus on the proper attitude towards others. It is this attitude that dictates the manner of sharing or hoarding. Perhaps one may describe this proper attitude as one of respecting persons as persons, more specifically, as reflections of our God and so worthy of our concern. The improper attitude is one of regarding persons as things. Cheating people so means increasing our wealth. Bribing people means ensuring our investments.

According to Amos the Israelite entrepreneurs had violated the core of the covenant with Yahweh. This covenant was a relationship between God and Israel and, in turn, between fellow Israelites. In the prophet’s view the attitude of the wealthy toward the poor was not interpersonal. Deflating the ephah and inflating the shekel reduced persons to the category of things. Selling the poor person for a price equal to a pair of sandals implied the distortion of values. It is not surprising that Amos proclaimed the end of the northern kingdom of Israel.

According to Luke the parable of the dishonest manager should prompt Christians to use their material possessions prudently. Among the applications of the parable Luke adds that there are two alternatives: serving God or serving mammon. Luke proceeds to make these applications concrete by reciting the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31.) The rich man chooses to isolate himself from others in a world of non-concern. Lazarus is not a person, but an object.

Bribes, poor service, shoddy workmanship are perhaps more obvious examples of treating people as things. However, there are more elusive ways in which we insulate ourselves from the real world of pain and so perceive our possessions as purely personal and in no way a communal patrimony. The poor in our local communities, in our country, and on the international scene are indeed worthy recipients of our wealth, talents, and gifts. But they are nameless and so do not impinge on our world of affairs. The thrust of these readings is to dismantle the anonymity and reach out. In this way the poor are recognized as persons and we are, or we become, the honest managers of God’s bounty.

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2.     Fr. Charles Irvin 

The Gospel passage you've just heard is a part of a series of parables dealing with spiritual crises that are generated when we misuse our possessions, when we end up being possessed by our possessions. Last Sunday's Gospel was about the Prodigal Son who demanded his share of his father's estate and then went out and squandered it all. Next Sunday's Gospel will be all about the rich man eating a sumptuous meal at his table while poor Lazarus sat starving at the rich man’s gate. The lesson today involves, as you all know, the devious and clever wicked steward who doctors the accounts of his master's books in order to win friends, friends who will care for him after he faces his impending firing.  

We need to give attention to some background before we unpack the meaning of today’s parable while noting the number of instances when in His parables Jesus uses business practices so familiar to His listeners. In the parable of the talents He used the investment of monies given to servants of a rich man to make His point. The parable of the prodigal son involved the monetary inheritance the son would receive upon his father’s death. Then there was the woman who searched for her lost coin, the story of the merchant who sold everything in order to purchase the pearl of great value, the parables involving fishermen, farmers, lost sheep, and others, all of which involved the business practices of the people of those times. 

Today’s parable needs to be understood with the realization that it was against Jewish law to charge interest on loans of money. Instead of bankers, the Jews earned interest by lending out produce instead of money. Here in this particular case the rich man was probably an absentee landlord who loaned olive oil and wheat to his debtors expecting to receive more of each commodity in return than what he had loaned them, the difference being the equivalent of interest charges on his loans. It was understood that the master’s steward would also earn his commission out of the differential amount, the amount between what was borrowed and the amount of the payback.

The religious understanding of the Pharisees was a very meticulous spiritual bookkeeping exercise. Everyone had to pray, pay, and obey. Anyone who didn’t was considered to be a law-breaker and was cast out. Everything had is price and everyone had their value in that spiritual economy. Jesus had a different understanding of our value in God’s eyes. 

What must have scandalized the Pharisees was the realization that the foresightful steward in today’s parable was being praised by Jesus precisely for his prudent vision of what lay ahead of him, not because he was a cheat but because he was a sinner who dared to hope for redemption.

Jesus is not commending the steward’s dishonesty. The steward’s dishonesty had been discovered and was obvious to everyone. Jesus didn’t concern himself with the obvious. The prodigal son squandered his money and the steward squandered his master’s property. Both, however, took the necessary steps to secure their futures, just as did the characters presented in similar parables that Jesus used. What Jesus is concerned with is the lack of spiritual foresight on the part of His followers.  

The point Jesus making is that we all ought to be as foresightful and prudent in planning ahead for our spiritual futures as the worldly-wise are in planning ahead for their financial and material futures. Jesus, clearly, is not commending the wicked steward for his deviousness. He was, after all, establishing a conspiracy to defraud the owner of the interest on his loans while at the same time returning the master’s principal amount on his loans, making friends with his mater’s debtors, and securing his own future along the way. Jesus was presenting His followers with the example of the zealous fore­sightfulness of the wicked steward and wishing that His own followers would be at least as enterprising in caring for the future of their souls.  

And so the immediate question confronting you and me is: How zealous are we in providing for our spiritual futures? Do we assume that God is a sort of Sugar Daddy in the Sky who is going to take care of us no matter what we do? Is it my unspoken assumption that what I do or what I don’t do in this life really doesn't matter in the long run because a loving and infinitely merciful God will provide for me anyway? That insults God. 

Many charitable and service organizations have Mission Statements. Most parishes have them. Successful businesses all have Business Plans. People who work in them, executives and worker alike, from time to time need to examine what they’re doing in the light of those plans and statements in order to keep focused and not devote their energies and divert them from their goals. 

 The world we live in is filled with distractions, distractions that come to us in all of our electronic devices both visual and audial. At times we get so busy that we wonder what we are accomplishing and where we are going. There are consequences that flow from our decisions and there are consequences that flow from our non-decisions and neglect. When you stop and think about it, not to decide is in itself a decision, a neglectful decision that can have bad consequences for us. This is particularly so when it comes to our spiritual lives.  

So, what do you see in your own future, your own spiritual future? Can you accept that fact that you are a sinner, a sinner who can be much like the steward in today’s parable, a sinner who dares to hope, a prodigal son who returns home believing in his father’s love? It’s a question of faith. It’s a question of hope. It’s a question of love. What steps are we taking to provide for our spiritual futures?

So today let me suggest that making a retreat may be more important than you think. It may be that a retreat isn’t something that is simply a nice thing to do. It may be a very necessary thing to do. Time alone with God is essential if we are to spend eternity with God forever in heaven?

We all have a destiny, a destiny God has given us. God didn’t give you and me a life to be lived only until we die. God gave us a life that He wants to share with us for all eternity, an eternal life to be lived in love, in a love relationship between you and Him. That, it seems to me, is the point for today’s parable and why Jesus was commending this foresightful steward to our attention.

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3.     Father James Gilhooley
 
 "For a quick check on your heart," someone has wisely counseled, "look into your checkbook."

 In the precarious movie industry, actor Paul Newman has managed to remain a super-star for a long time. He is a man who has developed all his personal gifts to the full. His many fans throughout the world will attest to this point. In addition, he has enthusiastically lived verse 9 of today's Gospel. "Use your worldly wealth to win friends for yourselves, so that when money is a thing of the past, you may be received into an eternal home." 

 Mr Newman has given away more than ten million dollars to various charitable causes. Additionally, he sponsors a camp for youngsters who are terminally ill. Sixteen hundred sick children receive a summer holiday in the country courtesy of the actor. This venture has cost him additional millions.

 Billy Graham might have Paul Newman in mind  when he said, "God has given us two hands - one to receive with and the other to give with." 

 If anyone is following the admonition of psalm 113, vs 7-8, it is Newman. "He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes..."

 The next few sentences from this preacher will come as a surprise to no one. Just as Newman is generous with the gifts that God has given to him, so should we Catholics. We need not be as lavish as he is. Yet, would it not be wonderful if proportionate to our wealth, whether large or small, we were? 

 Please note I am speaking today not about giving to your parish but rather giving to charities across the board. I think of those that especially relieve the burdens of the poor.

 Verse 9 of today's Gospel may well have inspired the epitaph found on an English grave. "What I kept I lost. What I spent I had. What I gave I have." 

 We might do well to reflect from time to time on this message from the Talmud while we still have the time. "We are born with our hands clenched.  We die with our hands open. Entering life we desire to grasp everything. Leaving the world all that we possess slips away."

 But, brothers and sister, a Gallup poll recently revealed bad news about us. Catholic households contribute on average less money to charities than members of all other religious groups in the United States. There are no pockets in burial shrouds nor armored cars in funeral processions. Still the majority of us are convinced we can somehow take our money out with us into the next life. Unhappily far too many of us possess what are called deep pockets and short arms.

 After all, even the pagan Greeks considered the poor "the ambassadors of the gods." Can we Christians and Catholics, who profess to follow the Poor Man of Nazareth, consider them less?

  Who was it who said that the hardening of the heart ages people more quickly than hardening of the arteries?

 The advice of St John Chrysostom should be taken more seriously by us. God never condemned anyone for not enriching our churches with magnificent furniture. However, He does threaten with hell those who do not give to the poor. Chrysostom might well have had today's verse 9 in mind or of course the famous Matthew 25, 31-46.

 Verse 13 instructs us today: "No servant can serve two masters...You cannot give yourself to God and mammon." With the advice of the Teacher in mind, many of us do attempt to somehow straddle the fence between God and mammon. We are very similar to the man who lived smack on the Mason-Dixon line during the United States Civil War. He did not want to choose sides. So, he wore a Union jacket and Confederate pants. But, unhappily for him, the Union soldiers shot at his pants. And the Confederates shot at his jacket. 

 Like it or no, we must choose sides. If we opt for the poor, we will discover a wonderful thing happening to us. When love opens the heart, writes one observer, we will find it will also open our hand too. 

 Recall the aphorism that teaches money can be your master or your servant.
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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1.     Andrew Greeley: Background: 

We must remember that when Jesus is telling a parable  it has only one point.  The point in this parable is that corrupt officials are very shrewd in the way steal money.  Whereas we who are his followers are not all shrewd bout how agile we should be to respond to the overwhelming and forgiving love of God that Jesus has revealed to us.

Story:

 Once upon a time there was an eighth grader who was a great, great quarterback. Everyone said he’d be varsity in his sophomore year, he was go good. They even said that when he graduated from high school he might go to Notre Dame where they specialize in ruining potentially great quarterbacks. Well, the kid was really good, but he was also really lazy. Or maybe we should say he thought there were more important things to do with the summer than weight training and practice the first week in August. And maybe he was right. He wanted to play football, you see, but he figured he was good enough that he could take the summer off and still play.  

 So he didn’t show up the first week in August or any week in August. When school started, he finally wandered down to the football field and threw a few perfect passes. The team was enthused. Maybe he would be varsity as a freshman. But the coach saw him and chased him off the field. You didn’t come to Summer practice, the coach said, we don’t want you now.

Maybe the coach was wrong, maybe there shouldn’t be August practice. BUT if you don’t want to work at something, no matter how good you are, you may be out of luck.

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Before John Wesley became the founder of the Methodist Church he was a teacher at Oxford University back in the 1700’s. When he began his career he was paid 30 pounds per year - in those days a lot of money. His living expenses were 28 pounds - so he gave 2 pounds away. The next year his income doubled - but he still managed to live on 28 pounds - so he gave away 32 pounds. The third year he earned 90 pounds - lived on 28 - and gave away 62. The fourth year he earned 120 pounds - lived on 28 - and gave away 92. One year his income was a little over 1,400 pounds - he lived on 30 and gave away nearly all of the 1,400 pounds. 

Wesley felt that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living but the standard of giving. Increasing our standard of giving. What a great Christian man and what a great lesson he taught us. It is the same lesson found in the parable for today. Let’s take a look. The Pharisees are standing off to the side watching Jesus as was their custom. Jesus’ disciples are listening intently as he tells his story. Probably on this occasion there were more than just the 12. A large number of followers are gathered around. He tells them about a steward who handled all the business affairs of a wealthy man. But the steward has squandered his master’s money; he was reckless and wasteful… 

Have you heard of the carnival barker who kept yelling “Alive! Alive! Here! Here! Did you ever see a two-headed baby? Come in! Come in!” The gaff is that they don’t have a two-headed baby inside the tent. They only asked if you ever saw one. 

This is the kind of shrewdness being celebrated in today’s Scripture reading.

Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012), the Mexican novelist and playwright whom some called “the soul of Mexico,” gave a long interview about his writing shortly after he turned 50 and began to contemplate his mortality. “I used to write to live,” he said. “Now I write not to die. I’ll live as long as I have another story to tell.”  

Jesus was the greatest storyteller who ever lived. But I’ll wager a guess that there’s one Jesus story on which you’ve seldom if ever heard a sermon. It’s our lectionary text for today. And it’s one of the strangest and, for some, the most repugnant story Jesus ever told. There are so many features of this story that deserve our attention, and today’s exegesis probes some of them. In this morning’s sermon we only have time to highlight one of them.  

This story provides primary evidence that Jesus wasn't just about telling stories of people who were "better" than we are, good and moral people we should try to imitate in some tradition of Aesop’s fables. The servant in this parable is bad to the bone. Yet he still has a message to bring that we can learn from. Jesus shows how even the worst have something of the best to teach us if we will be willing to receive wisdom from a tainted source, just as the servant received tainted wealth from a tainted world… 
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2.     God’s Grace 

The grace of God is like the man who went into the clothing store to buy a suit and was shown a blue one. "No," the customer said, "That won't do. I want a green suit." So the clerk called out to his partner, "Turn on the green light, Joe, the man wants a green suit!" It is not that things are changed. But we see them differently. In Christ we are given spectacles which give us a kingdom perspective. We see ourselves in a heavenly light; through God's eyes. We see how things really are. We need no longer suffer from the stigma that "sinner" - forgiven or otherwise - denotes. We can see ourselves as "heirs" with Christ of the Divine inheritance. The world is not changed, but we see it and ourselves in a new light; a kingdom light.

Robert McClelland, Fire in the Hole, CSS Publishing Company 
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3.     A Shrewd Example 

First-century culture was organized and orchestrated by strict social rules. The rules of reciprocal hospitality were in no way optional. Rather they were the supporting ligaments that bound together status and honor, safeguarding roles and responsibilities through right relationships. The dishonest manager has no doubts that he will be able to collect on the favors owed him when the time comes. He will get by, despite his looming unemployment, because he knows how to work the system, or in the more contemporary terms of network, because he knows how to make the net work.

Jesus doesn't admire the thorns that bar the manager's dubious situation. Neither does Jesus concern himself with the man's self-serving character. What Jesus focuses on is the fruit that results from the manager's shrewdness (machinations?). Jesus sees a man unafraid to push the accepted limits in order to bring about a needed change. And he sees in this shrewdness something that his disciples might well learn from.

Leonard Sweet, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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4.     Play It Safe or Take a Risk 

Rev. Mark Trotter tells of a mission in Mexico, sponsored by Mercy Hospital, in San Diego, and by Rotary International. Thirteen doctors from San Diego, and twice that number of nurses and other support staff, total of about fifty-five persons, paid their own way to go down as a surgical team to minister to poor children in Tehuacan, in the southern part of Mexico. He says,

“The call went out through the Rotary Club in that city for all those who do not have the means for medical attention to bring children with birth defects and crippling diseases to the clinic.  It was amazing. They came by the hundreds, mostly the very, very poor, carrying their children. Some teenagers, as well, some of whom have spent their life with their hand held over their face because they were ashamed of the way they looked. Some had been hidden by their parents because they did not want their neighbors to see what they believed was a curse upon their family. After an hour, or less, in surgery their appearance was changed, and they received new hope and a new life.

If you are hard-headed, you might conclude that the thousands of dollars that were spent last week in Tehuacan was just a drop in the bucket. It's not going to make any difference. I mean, the enormous suffering in this world, just wave after wave. It's not going to make any difference.

I talked to one of those Rotarians in Tehuacan who spent two years setting up this project. It's a complex business establishing this kind of a clinic in Mexico. I said, "Why did you do it?" He said, "We believe that we can change the world, and we are going to start right here."

It sounds naive. It is naive, when you compare it with the problems that exist, even the problems in his own state. But you are confronted with a choice in this life. That's the point of these parables. You are confronted with a choice. You can do nothing, and play it safe. Or, you can take a risk.”

Adapted from Mark Trotter, The Model of Success
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5.     When Shrewdness Wins the Day  

Dan Miller in his book No More Dreaded Mondays tells a delightful story about a farmer many years ago in a village in India who had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to the village moneylender. The old and ugly moneylender fancied the farmer’s beautiful daughter, so he proposed a bargain. He would forgive the farmer’s debt if he could marry the farmer’s daughter.

Both the farmer and his daughter were horrified by the proposal, but the cunning moneylender suggested that they let providence decide the matter. He told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty money bag. The girl would have to reach in and pick one pebble from the bag. If she picked the black pebble, she would become his wife and her father’s debt would be forgiven. If she picked the white pebble, she need not marry him and her father’s debt would still be forgiven. If she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail until the debt was paid.  

They were standing on a pebble-strewn path in the farmer’s field. As they talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles. The sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. He then asked the girl to pick a pebble. Now, imagine that you were the girl standing in the field. What would you have done? If you had to advise her, what would you have told her?  

Careful analysis would produce three possibilities: (1) the girl could refuse to take a pebble--but her father would then be thrown in jail. (2) The girl could pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from debt and imprisonment. Or (3) the girl could pull out both black pebbles in the bag, expose the moneylender as a cheat, and likely incite his immediate revenge.

Here is what the girl did.  

She put her hand into the money bag and drew out a pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble-strewn path, where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles. “Oh, how clumsy of me,” she said. “But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked.” Since the remaining pebble was black, it would have to be assumed that she had picked the white one. And since the moneylender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl would have changed what seemed an impossible situation into an extremely advantageous one.  

Don’t we all love stories where the good guy uses his or her wit and cunning to defeat a villain? It may disturb us when a villain uses that same wit and cunning. And yet Jesus once told his disciples a parable about a dishonest man who did just that.  

Dan Miller, No More Dreaded Mondays, Broadway Books, 2008.  Adapted by King Duncan
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6.     I Have Never Told the Half of It! 

Sometimes people tease me about speaking about God’s love and grace so much and when they do, I think of Marco Polo. In the 14th century, when he came back to Venice from his travels in Cathay, Marco Polo described the incredible wonders he had seen there. People didn’t believe him and for the rest of his life (and even on his death bed) they tried to get him to confess that he had lied and exaggerated about the wonders he had described. His last answer was: “I never told the half of it!”

That’s the way I feel about God’s love and grace – “I have never told the half of it!”

James W. Moore, www.Sermons.com
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7.     Humor: You Took Me In 

Henry Ford was known for both his frugality and his philanthropy. He was visiting his family's ancestral village in Ireland when two trustees of the local hospital found out he was there, and they managed to get in to see him.

They talked him into giving the hospital $5,000 dollars (this was the 1930's, so $5,000 dollars was a great deal of money). The next morning, at breakfast, he opened his newspaper to read the banner headline: "American Millionaire Gives Fifty Thousand to Local Hospital."

Ford wasted no time in summoning the two hospital trustees. He waved the newspaper in their faces. "What does this mean?" he demanded. The trustees apologized profusely. "Dreadful error," they said. They promised to get the editor to print a retraction the very next day, stating that the great Henry Ford hadn't given $50,000, but only $5,000. Well, hearing that, Ford offered them the other $45,000, under one condition: that the trustees erect a marble arch at the entrance of the new hospital, with a plaque that read, "I walked among you and you took me in."

Billy D. Strayhorn, Let's Make a Deal
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8.     Looking Past Oneself 

An enormously rich man complained to a psychiatrist that despite his great wealth which enabled him to have whatever he wanted, he still felt miserable. The psychiatrist took the man to the window overlooking the street and asked, "What do you see?" The man replied, "I see men, women, and children."

The psychiatrist then took the man to stand in front of mirror and asked, "Now what do you see?"
The man said, "I see only myself."

The psychiatrist then said, "In the window there is a glass and in the mirror there is glass, and when you look through the glass of the window, you see others, but when you look into the glass of the mirror you see only yourself. The reason for this, "said the psychiatrist, "is that behind the glass in the mirror is a layer of silver. When silver is added, you cease to see others. You only see yourself."

Whenever your devotion to money and material things causes you to be self-centered, you in essence deny God's intention for your life. It is also a denial of the Christ, for Jesus came into the world so that we might be in union with God.

Maxie Dunnam, Turn in an Account of Your Stewardship
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9.     When the Tigers Circle 

A Zen story characterizes life as a Buddhist monk fleeing from a hungry tiger. The monk comes to the edge of a cliff cutting off any hope of escape from the pursuing tiger. Fortunately for the monk, a vine happens to be growing over the edge. He grabs hold of it and begins to climb down the cliff, out of the tiger's reach, who is by now glaring at him from above. But alas, as the monk is climbing down, he spies another tiger waiting for him below; circling impatiently at the bottom of the cliff. To make matters worse, out of the corner of his eye he notices a mouse on a ledge above him already beginning to gnaw through the vine. Then out of the corner of his other eye the monk sees a strawberry growing from the rock. So he picks the strawberry and eats it.

Faith in God is not believing that the Holy One will intervene to "save" us. It is knowing what time it is…

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10.  STEWARDSHIP


Lloyd C. Douglas tells the story of Thomas Hearne, who, "in his journey to the mouth of the Coppermine River, wrote that a few days after they had started on their expedition, a party of Indians stole most of their supplies. His comment on the apparent misfortune was: 'The weight of our baggage being so much lightened, our next day's journey was more swift and pleasant.'

Hearne was in route to something very interesting and important; and the loss of a few sides of bacon and a couple of bags of flour meant nothing more than an easing of the load. Had Hearne been holed in somewhere, in a cabin, resolved to spend his last days eking out an existence, and living on capital previously collected, the loss of some of his stores by plunder would probably have worried him almost to death."

How we respond to "losing" some of our resources for God's work depends upon whether we are on the move or waiting for our last stand.

Lloyd C. Douglas, The Living Faith.



When you go to a doctor for your annual check-up, he or she will often begin to poke, prod, and press various places, all the while asking, "Does this hurt? How about this?" If you cry out in pain, one of two things has happened. Either the doctor has pushed too hard, without the right sensitivity. Or, more likely, there's something wrong, and the doctor will say, "We'd better do some more tests. It's not supposed to hurt there!" So it is when pastors preach on financial responsibility, and certain members cry out in discomfort, criticizing the message and the messenger. Either the pastor has pushed too hard. Or perhaps there's something wrong. In that case, I say, "My friend, we're in need of the Great Physician because it's not supposed to hurt there."

Ben Rogers.



Once, a man said, "If I had some extra money, I'd give it to God, but I have just enough to support myself and my family." And the same man said, "If I had some extra time, I'd give it to God, but every minute is taken up with my job, my family, my clubs, and what have you--every single minute." And the same man said, "If I had a talent I'd give it to God, but I have no lovely voice; I have no special skill; I've never been able to lead a group; I can't think cleverly or quickly, the way I would like to."

And God was touched, and although it was unlike him, God gave that man money, time, and a glorious talent. And then He waited, and waited, and waited.....And then after a while, He shrugged His shoulders, and He took all those things right back from the man, the money, the time and the glorious talent. After a while, the man sighed and said, "If I only had some of that money back, I'd give it to God. If I only had some of that time, I'd give it to God. If I could only rediscover that glorious talent, I'd give it to God."

And God said, "Oh, shut up."

And the man told some of his friends, "You know, I'm not so sure that I believe in God anymore."

God is No Fool, 1969, Abindgon Press.


11.  Lengthy Illustrations

So when man finds Jesus, it costs him everything. Jesus has happiness, joy, peace, healing, security, eternity. Man marvels at such a pearl and says, 'I want this pearl. How much does it cost?"

"The seller says, 'it's too dear, too costly.'
"But how much?'
"Well, it's very expensive.'
"Do you think I could buy it?'
"It costs everything you have -- no more, no less -- so anybody can buy it.'
"I'll buy it.'

"What do you have? Let's write it down.'
"I have $10,000 in the bank.'
"Good, $10,000. What else?'
"I have nothing more. That's all I have.'

"Have you nothing more?'
"Well, I have some dollars here in my pocket.'
"How many?'
"I'll see: Thirty, forty, fifty, eighty, one hundred, one hundred twenty -- one hundred twenty dollars.'
"That's fine. What else do you have?'

"I have nothing else. That's all.'
"Where do you live?"
"I live in my house.'
"The house, too.'
"Then you mean I must live in the garage?'
"Have you a garage, too? That, too. What else?'
"Do you mean that I must live in my car, then?'
"Have you a car?'
"I have two.'
"Both become mine. Both cars. What else?'

"Well, you have my house, the garage, the cars, the money, everything.'
"What else?'
"Are you alone in the world?'
"No, I have a wife, two children...'
"Your wife and children, too.'
"Too?'
"Yes, everything you have. What else?'
"I have nothing else, I am left alone now."

"Oh, you too! Everything becomes mine -- wife, children, house, money, cars -- everything. And you too. Now you can use all those things here but don't forget they are mine, as you are. When I need any of the things you are using, you must give them to me because now I am the owner."

Juan Carlos Ortiz, Call to Discipleship, (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1975), pp. 42,43.


12.  Commentary and Devotional

I place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the kingdom of God. If anything will advance the interests of the kingdom, it shall be given away or kept, only as by giving or keeping it I shall most promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes in time or eternity.

David Livingstone
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From Fr. Anthony Kadavil's Collection:

1: Waddling ducks:

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, once told about a make-believe country where only ducks lived. On Sunday morning all the ducks came into church, waddled down the aisle, waddled into their pews and squatted. Then the duck minister came in, took his place behind the pulpit, opened the Duck Bible and read, "Ducks! You have wings, and with wings you can fly like eagles. You can soar into the skies! Ducks! You have wings!" All the ducks yelled, "Amen!" and then they all waddled home. [Jim Burns, Radically Committed (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991).] No one flew or even tried. Friends, there’s just too much truth to that little fable. Using the parable of a rascally manager in today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges us to see that it is time for the children of light to quit waddling. It's time for us to soar by ingeniously using our God-given talents and blessings for the welfare of others, thus glorifying God and becoming eligible for our eternal reward. May we be the people that Jesus praises because we saw something that needed to be done and we did it. 

2: Returned overpayments:  
 
CNN reported that In March, 1994, the huge defense contractor Martin Marietta returned to the Pentagon some 540 overpayments, totaling $135 million. Of course, that was nothing compared to the $1.4 billion in overpayments various defense contractors returned to the Pentagon in 1993. With a fresh reading of the parable of the unjust steward in today’s gospel in mind, it is hard to read a report like that without wondering, where the truth is. Defense contractors do not belong to altruistic organizations. So why did Martin Marietta really return $135 million to the Pentagon? And if $1.4 billion in overpayments was returned in 1993, how much was not returned? The unjust steward in today’s gospel parable was also not concerned with truth and justice, but with his survival by any means. 

3: “That is the hotel I have just built for you to manage."  
 
One stormy night many years ago an elderly couple entered the lobby of a small hotel and asked for a room. The clerk explained that because there were three conventions in town, the hotel was filled. He added, "But I can't send a nice couple like you out in the rain at 1 o'clock in the morning.  Would you be willing to sleep in my room?"  The couple hesitated, but the clerk insisted.  The next morning when the man paid his bill, he told the clerk, "You're the kind of manager who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States.  Maybe someday I'll build one for you."  The clerk smiled, amused by the older man's "little joke." A few years passed.  Then one day the clerk received a letter from the elderly man recalling that stormy night and asking him to come to New York for a visit.  A round-trip ticket was enclosed. When the clerk arrived, his host took him to the corner of 5th Avenue and 34th Street, where a grand new building stood.  "That," explained the elderly man, "is the hotel I have just built for you to manage."  "You must be joking," the clerk said.  "I most assuredly am not," came the reply. "Who--who are you?" stammered the clerk.  The man answered, "My name is William Waldorf Astor."  That hotel was the original Waldorf-Astoria, one of the most magnificent hotels in New York. The young clerk who became its first manager was George C. Boldt.  The story reinforces today’s gospel message: blessings come from prudent action resulting from shrewd thinking.