Most gospel commentators agree: Of all the Lord Jesus’ parables, the Parable of the Dishonest Steward is the hardest to understand.
First-century Palestine had a corrupt farming economy. Absentee landlords. Exploitative sub-leasing arrangements. Dishonesty at every level.
The Lord addressed the Parable of the Dishonest Steward to His disciples. 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 trying to follow Christ to heaven.
In other words: dishonesty and double-dealing are bad, we know that. That’s not the point here. The thing we have to focus on is this: this steward thought quickly and acted practically. He honestly identified his own difficult situation. He took decisive action to prevent personal disaster.
So, with this parable, the good Lord asks us to think of the worldly people we know, the people bent on seeking pleasure or wealth or fame. Their goals are not worthy. And yet look at how energetically and how cleverly they pursue them! Look at their dexterity and skill!
Meanwhile, you so-called disciples of Mine say that you are committed to living for My glory, You say you seek heaven–something infinitely more worth seeking than what the children of the world are after. And yet you sit around slack-jawed and passive, like Homer Simpson staring at the tv.
How can we mope around clueless and idle, while Satan’s servants are filled with uncanny zeal? 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.
The Lord 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, which went hand-in-hand with the “God is love” thing. We have to open our ears to this other dimension of Christ’s teaching, too. God is love. True. But guess what else? Life is short.
Don’t be a woolgathering, slack-jawed, passive disciple. Be a disciple who is more clever than the cleverest Las-Vegas hustler. Because 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 now 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 and gives with no thought of taking.’”
The steward in the parable 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.