“What in the world is going on with this parable?”
This week, I fielded lots of questions from our youth groups about today’s parable, and the questions were understandable. Why does Jesus appear to praising dishonesty?
I have done more research for this homily than any other homily in my life. And I found the answer on Friday, just in the nick of time! One of probably 20 commentaries I checked was the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, where they have the entire Catholic Bible, along with the readings for each day of the year. The Bishops’ website is an awesome tool, and I highly recommend their website for going deeper into Scripture.
I found the answer in a footnote about the parable of the “dishonest steward”, which says this (and here I am paraphrasing): “The parable of the dishonest steward has to be understood in light of the custom in Palestine at the time of Jesus where stewards would add an expected cut for themselves in addition to what their master charged.
The dishonesty of the steward refers to the fact that the steward squandered his master’s property through dishonesty. The dishonesty does not refer to the steward adding on his own cut to the master’s charge. The master then commends the steward who has decided to not take his, the steward’s, own portion, but only having them write out the amount that each owed the master.
The steward acts in this way in order to win over the debtors because the steward and master both know he is being dismissed from his position. The parable, then, teaches the prudent use of one’s material goods in light of an imminent crisis.”
So that is the end of the note on the bishops’ website. A modern example might be a stock broker who knows he is going to be fired, and decides he will cut out his own commission in order to build up a relationship of trust with his clients, so that when he loses his job, the clients might give him a recommendation for his next job. The stock broker does not defraud his company. And the steward in the parable does not defraud his master.
What is the application for us…I think one of the things that Jesus is trying to say to us with this parable is that we are always facing the real possibility that at any moment we could die. Are we always worried about making money and building bigger barns to store it all in? God has given us countless material blessings…do we hold on to the material blessings tightly, or do we share generously and freely with the poor?
If we do share our money freely with the poor, the poor will be there on the day of judgment ready to explain to God how we helped them and we put their needs ahead of our own needs. And, lest we think we are buying the vote of a poor person for us on the day of judgment, St. Thomas Aquinas clarifies that those of us who give alms to the poor in order to obtain from them the assistance of their prayers do not give with the intent of buying their prayers; but by our giving generously to the poor we can inspire the poor to pray for us out of charity. (Summa, second part of the second part, question 100, article 3, reply to objection 2)
Lord, may you open our hearts to continue to grow in generosity toward the poor in our own community and all throughout the world. Amen!