25 Sunday C: Stewardship

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.

Scriptual comments

Lord, we thank you for free spirited people you send us
in our families, workplaces, parish communities, neighbourhoods.
FreeLike 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.
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.
helpingSecond, 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?
helping others5. 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.
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.

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.
Donal Neary S.J.
On the side of the poor (first reading)

Isn’t it still the same as the first reading has it? The poor get the worst of things, and are diddled; it’s quite contemporary. It is about greed and fooling the poor; raising the shekel – like raising the exchange rate so that the poorer countries get less dollars for their kwacha and rupees; golden handshakes for people whose greed is palpable and whose attitudes have left so many people hard up; money well protected and taxes avoided if not evaded. Our waste of food could feed so many. People are poor not through their own fault but because they are neglected.
How many of the poorer schools are becoming less well off, with resources such as special needs assistants taken away. Hospital care is getting worse, as people wait for prolonged periods for treatment. Mostly the poor will first suffer from economic mishap. God hates this – he hates mistreatment of his people. Jesus raged against the exploitation of the poor.
We pay tribute to the people who work for the poor and needy – in the parish; in diocesan and other social agencies, and our volunteers at home and abroad. Can we vote for public representatives who care for the poor?
The call to the Church is to care as Jesus cared; we need the harsh words of the first reading sometimes to waken us up, and the story of Jesus to make sure we don’t sleep again.
Pope Francis said: ‘if investments in banks drop a little, it’s a tragedy!
But if people are starving, if they have nothing to eat, if they are not
healthy, it does not matter! This is our crisis today,
Lord, may your kingdom come
The parable of the shrewd business manager is one of the most difficult parables of Jesus to grasp.  At first reading, it appears that Jesus is condoning extortion and larceny.  But Jesus admires not the manager’s lack of scruples but his decisiveness and ingenuity in taking control of his situation.  We admire those who use their intelligence, charm and pluck to get ahead in this world.  Jesus’ parable challenges us to be as eager and as ingenious for the sake of God’s reign, to be as ready and willing to use our time and money to accomplish great things in terms of the Gospel as we are to secure our own security and enjoyment.  Jesus appeals to the “children of light” to be as enterprising and resourceful in pursuit of reign of God as this steward is in making a place of himself in this world.  We must restore money as the means to an end and not as the end itself; we are only stewards of our Master's property.
In this parable, Jesus challenges us to be as industrious and as dedicated to pursuing the lasting things of God as we are to the impermanent and far less important things of the world.
Like the shrewd manager and his demanding master, we can become so obsessed with the pursuit of wealth and the manipulation of power that we seem to give up a piece of our humanity in the process.  Christ calls us to something far greater: to use that same dedication of energy, ability and efficiency to make the reign of God a reality in our own time and place.
Sometimes we let the things we possess us, demanding our time and attention at the expense of the people we love.  The danger of owning things is forgetting that the value is not in the thing itself but in that thing’s enabling us to save time and make our life easier so that we can concentrate on the more important values that the gift of life offers us.  
Christ warns his hearers not to trust in wealth for its own sake but to use wealth — whatever form our “wealth” takes — to establish the Father’s kingdom of compassion, reconciliation and justice in our midst.  
Land grab
Once there was a farmer named Pahom.  As a young man, he took over the family farm and made quite a success of it.  Soon he bought the neighbor’s farm, and then that neighbor’s neighbor’s farm, and so on until he owned thousands of acres of land.  He continued to buy land until he was the largest landholder in the district.
But it was not enough.  Pahom wanted more.  A traveler told him of the far away country of the Bashkirs, where acres and acres of the most beautiful land were waiting to be cultivated.  Pahom investigated the traveler’s story and found that it was true.  Pahom immediately sold his land and homestead at a hefty profit and journeyed to the land of the Bashkirs.
Upon his arrival, he presented himself to the Bashkir chief.  Pahom offered to buy as much land as they would sell.  The chief said the price was set:  One thousand rubles a day.
One thousand rubles a day?  What kind of measure is that?
“We do not know how to reckon it out,” said the chief.  “We sell it by the day.  As much as you can go round on your feet in a day is yours, and the price is one thousand rubles a day.”
Pahom was shocked.  “But in a day you can get round a large track of land.”
“And it will be yours,” the chief said.  “But there is one condition:  If you don’t return on the same day to the same spot where you started, your money is lost.”
The excited Pahom paid the money and agreed to begin his trek the next morning.  That night Pahom could hardly sleep, he was so excited.  The virgin soil was the most beautiful he had ever seen, rich and black, level and stoneless.  All of it would be his.
Just before sunrise the next morning, Pahom met the chief and his men at the appointed place.  As the sun appeared over the horizon at dawn, Pahom dug his spade into the dirt, marking his starting point.  The race was on.
Pahom walked as fast as he could, making marks along the way. As the day grew warmer, he cast aside his coat.  Soon he was running.  By noon he was very pleased at the great distance he walked — but time was wasting.  He did not stop to eat, but kept up his pace, almost running.  Pahom would not even take time to rest or take a drink of water.  Although near exhaustion, the promise of land kept him going.
All afternoon he ran.  But as the sun was about to set, Pahom realized that he had gone too far.  He had less than an hour to make it back to the starting spot.  Horrified at his blunder, Pahom ran faster and faster, his legs becoming heavier and heavier.  The sun began to set over the western horizon.  Pahom could see the Chief and the Bashkirs waiting for him.  Pahom dragged his body across the plain, crying for more time.
As the sun disappeared, Pahom dropped to his knees before reaching the mark he had made at sunrise.  But he had no strength left to make his final mark.  Broken and exhausted, Pahom collapsed before the Chief.
The Bashkirs picked up his shovel and buried Pahom on the spot. Six feet from his head to his heels was all the land he needed.
[From the story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” by Leo Tolstoy, from Walk in the Light and Twenty Three Tales.]

Jesus constantly warns his followers of the dangers of money and possessions.  Often we let the things we possess possess us, demanding our time and attention at the expense of the people we love.  The danger of owning things is forgetting that the value is not in the thing itself but in that thing’s enabling us to save time and make our life easier so that we can concentrate on the more important values that God offers us in the gift of life.

I once worked as a Prison Chaplain. One day I met a new prisoner who had just been imprisoned for 6 years. He explained to me that he had defrauded his company. He told me he was the secretary of the company employing him. He said that his employers trusted him with a lot of the company’s money. After a year he felt he could falsify documents and make a lot of money for himself. Unfortunately his dishonesty was discovered. The result was he was condemned to 6 years in prison.
He reminded me of the dishonest steward in today’s gospel. Unfortunately the gospel parable seems to jump out at us directly from today’s newspaper headlines. Almost every day we hear of managers and others being accused of and dismissed for squandering money entrusted to them. Accounts of falsified documents, forgery, misuse of funds – it seems Jesus is speaking of our time rather than his own.
What surprises us about today’s gospel is that Jesus seems to be praising the dishonest steward for what he has done. Rather we would expect Jesus to condemn totally the actions of the dishonest steward. Obviously this is not the case. What Jesus praises the dishonest steward for is not his dishonesty but his astuteness or prudence in reacting to the situation when he is found out by his master.
What Jesus is praising is the resourcefulness or the imagination of the dishonest steward not the fraud. He uses his imagination in a creative way to secure his future. He knows he is not strong enough to dig, he would be ashamed to beg. An important aspect of the parable then is that in the face of total loss he acts immediately and decisively. Jesus compares the ‘children of light’, his followers with the ‘children of this world’, those who live according to worldly values only. As the steward prepares for one form of ‘after-life’ when he is dismissed, Jesus invites us to be as decisive in preparing for our ‘after-life’. Jesus is not commending any form of dishonesty or financial cheating but rather invites us to take advantage of life’s opportunities to choose real life.
‘Use money to win you friends’ – money is there to serve us. We are invited by Jesus to use money or material goods to share them with others, our families, friends but especially the less well off. In the theology of St. Luke taking care of the poor and needy is the best way for us to serve God and not mammon. This is what the prophet Amos speaks about in the first reading. He condemns those who seek only to make themselves rich by exploiting the poor and the lowly.
But there is a much deeper meaning to the parable. And this really is the Good News of today’s gospel.
When the master found out about the steward’s dishonesty, instead of putting him in prison as would normally be the case, he simply told the dishonest steward he could no longer work for him. Thus the steward then had the opportunity to act immediately and decisively to gain his future. We know what he did. Obviously before the debtors of his master found out about his dishonesty he took advantage of the situation. The steward knew his master would honour whatever decisions he made as he was still acting on the master’s behalf. The steward knowing his master to be a kind and generous man quickly got the debtors to write lesser amounts to be repaid than were on the original bonds or promissory notes. He hoped by doing this one or more of the debtors of his master would appreciate what he did and take care of him for helping him.
Thus the real point of the parable is to confirm the kindness and generosity of the master. He did not send the steward to prison but only dismissed him. He would honour the lower amounts the dishonest steward negotiated with the debtors. Jesus is saying – ‘this is your God. He could really punish you for your sinful ways but is merciful and compassionate to you like the master in the parable He accepts a lot less from you than he is entitled to receive because of his incredible goodness to you’.
But Jesus is also challenging us. ‘Wake up’, he says. Be more decisive and imaginative in your Christian vocation so as to use money and the material goods of this world as is worthy of children of God. We don’t know what time remains for us. The terrible evil terrorist attack on the Americans a week ago should be a warning to us not to be complacent. God is so generous with us in spite of our dishonest ways. Will we repent and turn back to him in generosity, especially in our care for the poor and needy?
‘Heavenly Father, we are all dishonest stewards in one way or another. Thank you for your great patience in accepting far less in return from us than you deserve. Change our hearts into hearts of loving and generous response. Amen.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA
 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.

Fr, Jude Botelho:

The prophets were aware of the role money plays in our life and in the practice of the faith. In fact, the prophet Amos quite bluntly states that one who exploits the poor cannot serve God. Worship of God cannot be genuine unless we are concerned about the poor and their needs. Amos faced a people outwardly religious, but inwardly corrupt. They went through the outward trappings of religiosity, but failed to love their neighbour, especially the poor, as they should. Amos felt called by God to denounce the injustices towards the poor and the oppressed.

The Joy of Giving
When her husband Ray Kroc died in 1984, Joan Kroc was left with an estimated $700 million. Her wealth included an 8.7 percent share of the common stock of the McDonald’s food empire and full ownership of the San Diego Padres baseball franchise.  Since that time this fast food empress became a woman of many causes. Besides giving sizeable donations to nuclear-disarmament groups, the San Diego Zoo, St Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis and the American Red Cross for African famine relief, Joan Kroc has also been a steady supporter of the arts, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, medical research, wildlife preservation and programs to combat child abuse. Some sceptics dismiss her as a jet-set do-gooder, but close friends say that she becomes personally involved in many of the causes she supports. -Today’s Scripture seems to be a blueprint for Joan Kroc’s use of money. She is the anti-thesis of the rich decried by the prophet Amos for trampling on the needy and taking unfair advantage of the poor.
Albert Cylwicki in “His Word Resounds”

In today’s Gospel the parable of the unjust steward is difficult to understand. If Jesus appears to praise the steward it is certainly not for his unjust actions but for his foresight. ‘The children of this world are more ‘clever’ than the ‘children of the light’ The proper way of using riches is by using it for reaching out to those in need, by giving it away to help others rather than use it selfishly for one’s own needs. The steward was commended for, as it were, killing two birds with one stroke. In letting the debtors lower the interest to be paid, he could not be punished by the master because the rates charged were much higher than legally permissible. He was in fact observing the law. On the other hand, those who had to pay the debt were grateful because their debt was lessened, thanks to the shrewd steward. Money while often being tainted and seductive can be an instrument of doing good. Luke is not advising the Christian to be a beggar but is reminding us that when we stand before God we will be asked to give an account of all that we have received. We cannot serve two masters, God and money; we have to make our choice.

It all comes back
There was a company which built houses, and their business was on a very large scale. There is a story told about one of their building contractors, who was approaching the age of retirement. He had become very careless and carefree, and his working standards were constantly slipping. He began cutting corners, using inferior material, and taking short cuts. He was quite pleased with himself, and he felt he was onto a good thing here. As time progressed, so did the standard of his work fall. The houses were new, so the faults would not show up straightaway, and he would be well out of business by then. The time of his retiring arrived, and it 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 that last house he had built!
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth’

Keep Your Head Up!
There was once a young fellow who found a silver dollar. From that time on he never raised his eyes from the ground when he walked. In the next ten years he accumulated $350 in silver, 37 pennies, 18,478 buttons, 14,369 pins, a hunch back, a miserly character and a very rotten disposition. He lost the beauty and glory of sunshine, the smiles of friends, the gorgeous colours and beauty of flowers and trees, blue skies, and all there is which makes life worthwhile… Keep your head up, your eyes towards the stars. You may miss finding a few pennies but you will find all the beautiful things that make the living of life a glorious adventure.
P. Fontaine in ‘Quotes and Anecdotes’

Jesus went on to point out that the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind of people than are the children of light. That is the point –the only point that Jesus praises. An up-dated but innocent example of the children of this world being enterprising is the department store clerk who had broken all sales records. Modestly disclaiming credit, he explained to his boss, “A customer came in, and I sold him some fishhooks. “You will need a line for those hooks,” I said, and sold him some line. Then I told him, “You have to have a rod to go with the line,” and I sold him a rod. “You aught to have a boat so you can use your new rod in deep water,” I suggested, and sold him a boat. Next I told him, “You’ll need a boat trailer” and he fell for that too. Finally, I said, “How will you pull the trailer without a car? and guess what? He bought my car.” And the boss said, “But I assigned you to the greetings card department.” “That is right,” the salesman nodded. “This customer came to me for a get-well card for his girl, who had a broken hip. When I heard that I said to him, ‘You haven’t got anything to do for six weeks, so you might as well go fishing.’ ”
Harold Buetow in ‘God still speaks: Listen!’

An Astute Manager
A few years ago a priest was giving a retreat to inmates in a federal prison in the South. One of the talks dealt with Jesus’ teaching about revenge. Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” To illustrate Jesus’ point, the priest told the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black athlete to play in the major leagues. When Branch Rickey signed Jackie to a Dodger contract in 1945, he told him, “You will have to take everything they dish out to you and never strike back.” Rickey was right. On the field, pitchers brushed Jackie back with blazing fastballs, and opposing fans and teams taunted him. Off the field, he was thrown out of hotels and restaurants where the rest of the team stayed and ate. Through it all, Jackie kept his cool. He turned the other cheek. And so did branch manager Rickey, who was abused by people for signing Jackie. The priest ended the story by asking the prisoners this question: “Where do you think black athletes would be today had Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey not turned the other check?” After the talk, a prisoner said to the priest: That’s a nice story, father. But why didn’t you tell the whole story? Why didn’t you tell why Rickey and Robinson turned the other cheek? It wasn’t for love of God. It was for love of money. “Rickey turned the other cheek because if he succeeded, he would make a fortune too.” The priest thought to himself for a minute: “If the prisoner’s right, then he’s just shot my nice little story right out of the water.” But then the priest thought: “Hey! Wait a minute! If the prisoner’s right, then my story makes an even more important point!” It’s the same point Jesus makes in today’s gospel. Jesus says: “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

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.


 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.
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… 
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 
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,
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
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
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,
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
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
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…


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.'
"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
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.