Hustle Like the Dishonest Steward

old-booksMost 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.

Dishonest Steward’s Meaning

Oceans Eleven

See how easy the Bible is to understand? I mean, the Parable of the Dishonest Steward practically explains itself. Who needs a preacher? The meaning just leaps right off the page. Perfectly obvious.

ace-of-heartsOk. Not really.

I’ve preached on this one a few times, since we read the same gospel readings every _____ years.

Right. Three. Six years ago, I made three points on the Dishonest Steward.

1. The parable teaches us to clarify our ultimate goal. What am I aiming at?

2. Sometimes Christ invites sinners to repent. Other times, He gives instruction to faithful disciples, who have long since repented. This parable teaches such disciples. The parable does not condone dishonesty. It assumes that we already know that dishonesty is a sin.

3. The steward in the parable acted in a resourceful, clever, and decisive manner. He confronted his situation with sober realism and did the best he could to deal with it. He hustled, in other words. And he hustled solely to avoid having to beg or dig ditches. We, on the other hand, have heaven for our goal. We want to get to heaven and help others get to heaven.

Continue reading “Dishonest Steward’s Meaning”

Unforgiving Steward, Dishonest Steward

As I reflect upon my meager efforts to discharge faithfully my sacred duties, I recall that I have tackled a good number of the Lord Jesus’ parables.

One of these days, I will present you with a handy compendium of my many tedious commentaries on the little stories of our Lord. In the meantime, here goes a ‘compare & contrast’ to whet the appetite…

The parable of the dishonest steward presents us with a great challenge. What does it mean?

Book of the Holy Gospels
Maybe it will help to compare and contrast this parable with the parable of the unforgiving steward.

Both parables present the same set of circumstances: a failed bureaucrat gets called to account by his master. Both stewards find themselves in desperate straits, because their boss has discovered their enormous incompetence.

But the two stewards react in diametrically opposed ways. The unforgiving steward initially begs his master’s mercy—and receives it—only to lose it by being stingy and unmerciful himself.

The dishonest steward, however, compounds his dishonesty by secretly forgiving his master’s debtors. Then he finds himself praised by his master for doing so.

One element of the stories that leaps out is this: The unforgiving steward utterly failed to understand his master’s thinking, whereas the dishonest steward understood his master even better than he knew.

The first steward promised to repay his own enormous personal debt to his master. The master knew that would never happen, so he wrote off the debt for good. But the servant failed to grasp that his master was being merciful with him. The steward marched out into the street believing his own nonsense about coming up with lots of money that he didn’t have and never would have.

The dishonest steward, on the other hand, was actually remarkably honest and practical with himself. He knew his limits and immediately took action to turn a desperate situation into a livable outcome. He knew that his very survival depended on his cultivating friends, so he used the means he had at hand to win some people over.

Can we doubt that his master smiled at this behavior precisely because this is the way in which he himself became rich? When he saw his steward seizing his opportunity, he thought to himself, ‘This dude really isn’t as much of a numbskull as I thought he was.’

Another common element of the two parables is this: In both cases, the masters possess enough wherewithal to write off massive losses indulgently. They both lose a lot of money because their stewards are incompetent, but they do not give the lost money a second thought. Instead, they focus on the persons before them.

So, the moral: God smiles on us when we humbly and practically seek the help we need to get our sinful butts to heaven.