The first part of Luke 16: Hard to follow. To try to understand, let us recall three key facts. [Click para leer en español.]
First: Everything we human beings do, we do for the sake of some goal. There are really only two ultimate goals. Either we live for God, or we live for some satisfaction which we can have in this world—pleasure, power, or vainglory, all of which require money. The first goal–to live for heaven–is worthy of who we are, the children of God. The second goal is the sad desperation which takes over when we lose God’s friendship.
The ultimate goal we set for ourselves puts us into one of two categories. As Christ Himself put it: living for God makes a person a “child of light.” Living for something else makes someone a “child of this world,” a servant of mammon.
The second fact to keep in mind: The Parable of the Dishonest Steward is addressed to Christ’s disciples, to the children of light. The gospel itself says this. This is not a parable about converting from serious sin to a life of obedience to God’s commandments, like the parable of the Prodigal Son we read at Sunday Mass last week. The Parable of the Dishonest Steward is for people who are already converted.
And the third fact to keep in mind is this: leaving aside his dishonesty, the steward in the parable did act in a remarkably resourceful, clever, and decisive manner. We could get into nitty-gritty details about the role of land stewards in the corrupt farming economy of first-century Palestine, which involved absentee landlords, exploitative sub-leasing arrangements, and dishonesty at every level. But suffice it to say that this steward used his mind, identified his own difficult situation, and took quick and effective action to prevent a personal disaster.
If we keep these three facts in mind, perhaps we can see the point the Lord Jesus is trying to make in the parable. He was speaking to His disciples, to people like us, who know His commandments and try to live by them. We already know that dishonesty and double-dealing are bad.
But He asks us to do is this: Think of the worldly people we know, the people bent on seeking pleasure or wealth or the esteem of other people. Their goals are not worthy, and yet look at how energetically and how cleverly they pursue them! Look at the dexterity and skill with which they seek fleeting satisfactions of one kind or another.
Meanwhile—the Lord is saying to us—meanwhile, you say that you are committed to living for my glory, that you seek true and everlasting happiness, which is infinitely more worthwhile than what the children of the world are after—and yet you sit here slack-jawed and passive, with glazed eyes, when you should be bending every effort, honing every skill, and capitalizing on every opportunity you have to grow in holiness and win souls for heaven.
We have been entrusted with many precious resources, and we have been given many opportunities. God gave them to us to use to further the noble goals that we say we have. We have to ask ourselves: Do we have energy? Then we should spend it all for Christ. Do we have skills? Then we should use them for the good of souls. Do we have money? It should be used for the growth of Christ’s Kingdom on earth.
How can we stand around clueless and idle while Satan’s servants are filled with uncanny zeal for the wrong things? We should be a hundred times more creative, more resourceful, more realistic, more prudent in rendering faithful service to God than the children of this world are in chasing after the shadows of selfishness and greed.
I think the Lord actually explained the parable perfectly when He added: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
Throughout His life and ministry, Christ certainly preached the message, “God is love.” No doubt about it. That God is love was Christ’s message. But He also preached another message that went hand-in-hand with the “God is love” thing. We close ourselves off to the Scriptures if we do not open our ears to this other dimension of Christ’s teaching. God is love. True. But guess what else? Life is short.
When Christ communicates the message “God is love,” He does not also say, “Therefore, relax. Therefore, take a Calgon bath.” God is love. Therefore, chill out on the couch, and loll around all the time. Because God made this world plush for us.
No. To the contrary. Christ’s message, taken as a whole, could perhaps be distilled like this: “When you die–which could be today–you will go to meet the God of love. Therefore, get ready to meet Him. By loving. Love like today were your last day on earth.”
Don’t be a woolgathering, slack-jawed, passive disciple. Be a disciple who is more clever than the cleverest Las-Vegas hustler. As clever as the cleverest Fortune-500 CEO is–be that clever about souls.
Above all, the parable highlights this fact: Everything we have in our hands now, everything about which we even can be clever now–it will all pass away. Everything we see or touch will pass away. Life on earth will end. And only our acts of genuine love will endure. Only the pure love we share with God and our neighbor will endure. Everything else is just so much straw.
It’s not a sin to have a million dollars. The sin would be to think that a million dollars will do me any good after I die–which I will soon do. It’s not a sin to hold power and influence in this world. The sin would be to think that I have any power over death and judgment. Death and judgment will come when they will come, whether I like it or not.
Let’s use a Las-Vegas metaphor. God holds the cards. All the cards are His. He deals me a hand to play in this short life. And He tells me, “Son, play your hand to win friends for eternal life. Play your hand so that when the game is over, which it will be very soon, the other players will say of you, ‘That’s a kind person. That’s a God-fearing person. That’s a person who listens before he speaks, smiles before he frowns, and gives with no thought of taking.’”
Win friends for eternal life with whatever you have to work with now. Because soon you will die. And then it won’t matter what kind of phone you own. Or whether or not your brother owes you $5,000, and never paid you back. Or whether you were right or wrong when you insisted that the house be painted that particular color, even though your wife wanted it to be a different color.
None of that will matter. Only kindness, honesty, generosity, piety, humility, justice, chastity, and faithfulness will matter. The godly things. They last.
The steward thought of his future, and it put the present into perspective. The Lord asks us to do the same. Life is short. Pray hard. Love. Let go of everything else.