Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

How many second chances ought we to give, Lord? Seventy times seven second chances.

In the parable we read at Holy Mass today, the servant owed the king a huge amount. After the servant begged for mercy, the king forgave the loan.

Shawn Lauvao Redskins 77
77 pardons in honor of Shawn Lavao?

We want to relate to the magnificently magnanimous king. But can we deny that some debtors really do push us too far? Everyone knows somebody who simply doesn’t know how to stay out of debt, and won’t learn. Black holes of the good will of everyone around them, helpless and incorrigible. They try the patience of good people beyond the breaking point.

So: Let’s give the first servant in the parable the maximum benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that he had borrowed from the king only this one time. Meanwhile, his fellow servant had borrowed from him, without repaying, over and over again. Let’s acknowledge that any of us, driven to the extreme by such a deadbeat relative or friend, would long since have let him or her rot in jail, rather than swoop in with an “emergency” loan again.

All this may have been true in the scenario outlined in the parable. But still the king faulted the first servant for his lack of mercy.

Now, is this a reasonable judgment, considering the genuine limitations of human generosity? I’ve had to say it myself; after all, it is true: “Look, I want to help you. But I am not made of money.”

So, to understand all this, I think we need to keep in mind the context of this exchange between St. Peter and the Lord. Peter asked how often he must forgive his brother immediately after the Lord Jesus had explained a particularly amazing power that the Church possesses. The Church, a living family with duly appointed authority figures, has the power to bind and to loose, in the name of God. The living authority of the Church keeps the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

peterjesusBoth to bind and to loose. Holy Mother Church can and does bind. She can and does impose penalties–penalties with potentially horrifying and everlasting effects. There are things we have to stay far away from, if we know what’s good for us. Sacrilege, apostasy, abortion.

But the Church, when she binds someone with a penalty, always binds with the hope of ultimately loosing. Church penalties aim at correction and then restoration of communion. She never tires of forgiving the miscreant who repents. No one ever runs out of second chances with the Church. Everything the Church has belongs to everyone who humbly seeks Her goods, even if it’s a deadbeat who has confessed the same terrible sins too many times to remember.

So it doesn’t necessarily make any of us a bad person if we conclude that such-and-such cousin or nephew or old college roommate or former co-worker has come asking for help just one too many times. We individuals on our pilgrim way have our limits.

But what we can’t do is judge anybody any more harshly than Holy Mother Church does. And the Church is always ready to start over, as if today were the first day of a brand new friendship.

The Suddenness of the Seine-Net

Seine net fishing.jpg

The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. (Matthew 13:47)

Anyone know what that kind of net is called? The technical term for a dragnet for fish? Seine. Purse-seine, Danish seine, drum seine—whichever precise kind.

What seems worth meditating on is this: The utter suddenness of capture in seine-net fishing, from the point-of-view of the fish. It’s not like bait or fly fishing, where the fish perceives something and then follows its curiosity/hunger, only to discover that this item actually means bad news for me, then a struggle ensues.

No. When a fish gets caught in a seine net, it’s like: Do-ta-do, swimming along, la la la, here in the ocean, along the colorful shoal, in the dappled sunlight, the happy life of a fish, with my friends in a nice big school, tra la la. Then: yank! The hydraulic power block that pulls the purse line pumps. And you, fish, are on the deck before you know what hit you.

With just such disorienting instantaneousness might our moment of judgment come. Do-ta-do, here I am, sunny day, easy life, texting my buddies, la la. Then: Yank. Crank. On the deck.

Good ones go into the cool, refreshing ice. Bad ones, as the Lord said, into the fiery furnace.

Redemption and Original Sin

devil sewing tares

In everyone, the weeds of sin will be mixed with the good wheat of the gospel until the end of time.  The Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ’s salvation, but still on the way to holiness.

This is a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (paragraph 827)

The parable of the wheat and the tares ends with some drama:  The bundled weeds burn; the sifted wheat fills the barn with the restful smell of harvest-time. And the parable injects drama into our gathering here.  Right here, right now, some of us are good guys, and some of us are bad guys. [se haga click for spanish]

But we don’t wear jerseys to identify which team each of us is on.  Because we are all on both teams.  Good guys, raise your hands.  Bad guys, raise your hands.

God made Adam and Eve good, and He set them up well.  Even though they were made out of nothingness and susceptible to death and decay, God filled them with divine life and made them immortal.  They never would have died; they never would have experienced any evil—if they had not sinned.

the-fallBut…

And they sinned before they conceived their children.  Therefore, when they did have children, the children were born in the precarious state into which their parents had fallen.  Human nature gets handed down in this precarious state. We all received human nature in this precarious state.  In a nutshell, the precarious state is:  We are born mortal and selfish.

Since we sin all the time, it is easy for us to lose sight of just how enormous the guilt of sin is.  If you play in the NBA, and you mutter a bad word at a referee, you can be fined the cash equivalent of a brand-new Mercedes-Benz.  For offending a basketball referee.

What, then, is the penalty for offending God?  The infinitely good and powerful?  The Almighty? Well, the penalty is:  Infinity dollars.  You offend the infinite, you owe an infinite debt. And we don’t have infinity dollars.

So God became man and offered a peace offering of infinite love on our behalf. On the cross, Christ the man offered His divine love to the Father.  Behold:  the fine is paid, by the love of the Son for the Father.

Having redeemed mankind as a man, God continues to move history forward by the birth of succeeding generations of men—born in the way we have always been born. But now we can be adopted into the household of God by the blood of Christ.  Holy Baptism brings about this adoption.

God, being God, could receive us into heaven immediately upon our being baptized.  But, usually, He graciously wills otherwise.  He wills to make us partners in our own salvation; He leaves us on earth into adulthood, under the power of our own free will.  He gives us time to do battle with the lingering effects of original sin. By doing so—by fighting the battle—we come into our own and grow into the people He made us to be.

So: as baptized Christians, we are children of God.  As children of Adam, we are craven sinners.   We know we have been consecrated to become saints of Christ, but nonetheless we are moved by strong desires to do things like plop down in front of the t.v. for hours scarfing down an entire bag of Doritos.

The struggle against the residual effects of original sin sounds difficult, and indeed it is.  But getting a grip on the situation is half the battle. When we know what the battle is, we can fight it.

The Lord in His parable reserved to Himself the right to judge the souls of men on the last day.  It is not my business to condemn my own soul or anyone else’s. As long as we still have two feet above ground, harvest time has not yet arrived for us.

What I must do is weed out of my own interior garden while I still can.  And that is precisely what we are here to do.  We are here in church to praise God for the good in us. And to work to remove the bad. We all know that our own individual souls are gardens where good plants and evil weeds both grow.

And another important lesson of the parable is this: when we reach down into our souls to pull out a weed, we don’t have to worry that we might pull out too much earth and ruin the seed-bed.  Inside us, the good lies deeper than the bad.  The weeds might seem like they go all the way down to the bedrock. But, in fact, they do not. The bedrock of a human soul is God.

First and foremost, I am a beloved child of God; He made me good, and He died on Calvary to save me from condemnation.  He poured out His Precious Blood to pay the price for all my sins.  I need not be afraid, then, to confront them. I can acknowledge that this particular beloved child of God is also a weak and depraved son of Adam—a sinner who relies on divine mercy.

Where sin abounds—and it abounds in me—grace abounds all the more.

λόγον τῆς βασιλείας: Weeds No, Coffin Yes

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_Angelico
Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico

In ancient Palestine, you had to have a path through your fields to keep people from treading all over your seedlings, because everyone had the right to walk anywhere. And rocky patches dotted all the arable Palestinian hillsides. And thistles would germinate and sprout as weeds in your fields, no matter what you did. [Click por español.]

So seeds really did face the perils that the Lord described in the Parable of the Sower. He went on to explain that the seed in the parable represents “the word of the kingdom,” λόγον τῆς βασιλείας. Like the third luminous mystery of the Holy Rosary: the proclamation of the kingdom and the call to repentance.

Thistle seeds carried on the Palestinian breezes, and farm fields had weeds. As Jesus went on to explain: worldly anxiety and the lure of riches can grow like weeds in a soul, choking the word of the kingdom, so that it bears no fruit.

Now, how would that be? we might ask. Since λόγον τῆς βασιλείας means the full fruition of human life in God. As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council put it: “To carry out the will of the Father, Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth. The Father’s will is to raise up men to share in his own divine life.” (Lumen Gentium 2-3) To raise up men to share in His own divine life.

In exactly three weeks, we will keep the Feast of Christ’s Transfiguration. The boundless light of His divine nature shone through His human flesh. For a few moments on Mount Tabor, Peter, James, and John saw the divinity of Jesus.

Christ’s union with God, the inner permeation of His being by God’s infinite glory: such a union is precisely what awaits us. In the kingdom of heaven, our entire human personality will receive God’s warm and loving light–everything about us permeated by Him. Such is the meaning of λόγον τῆς βασιλείας, the word of the kingdom.

st-francis-contemplating-a-skullSo, we wonder: how could the weeds of worldly anxiety, or the lure of riches–how could anything ever choke out the fruition of something so wonderful? What success or satisfaction in this life could ever hold a candle to the glory that Christ promises us with God? Nothing can compete with God!

Wouldn’t it make more sense, we think–wouldn’t it make more sense intentionally to renounce the comforts of the earth, if they could ever interfere with us reaching heaven, like weeds interfere with the growth of good plants? Hard to believe that anyone would prefer a fancy life for sixty or seventy years over an eternity of divine happiness. Better just to become a monk who sleeps in his coffin and passes the few short decades of this pilgrim life in prayerful simplicity!

But people do make such a nonsensical choice, the choice of short-term, low-budget satisfaction over an eternity of divine communion. The danger of weeds choking the holy word–that danger exists.

Usually it doesn’t happen all at once. It happens gradually. Over time a soul can lose the taste for spiritual things, for the life of faith. One little compromise with a clear religious duty here, a little flim-flamming with the truth there, an unwholesome self-indulgence (for this once!) there…

Next thing you know, I haven’t prayed in a long time. I haven’t meditated on the inevitability of my own death and burial. I haven’t made a decision to sacrifice something, to forego a pleasure or comfort for the sake of spiritual gain. All I do is seek the approval of others, or sit around and watch tv, or over-eat, or swill liquor like a lush.

In The Lord of the Rings, Gollum spent so much time in his cave with his Precious, eating raw fish, that he forgot the taste of bread. A human soul can spend so much time staring at a little phone that it forgets the taste of silent prayer.

But: As long as we still draw breath, it’s not too late. The word of the kingdom can and will bear fruit. The wonder of Christ’s free invitation to us, to share in our Creator’s eternal and utterly beautiful Being: the wonder of λόγον τῆς βασιλείας never fades. It never tarnishes with time. It always comes as fresh and new as if today were the first day of creation.

Yes, we have let wordly anxieties and the lure of shiny trifles choke the growth of our friendship with the Lord. Lord, we are sorry! Forgive us, and give us a fresh start!

We can pray. We can cultivate our taste for the life of faith and meditation. We can grow in union with the undying light that shone in Jesus. We can live holy lives and bear fruit for the heavenly kingdom.

If we can get ourselves to Mass,  there’s hope for us yet. May the Lord help our souls grow.

Hamlet and the 77 Pardons

Shawn Lauvao Redskins 77

Lord, how often must I forgive my brother? Answer: No less than 77 times.

Now, the Lord didn’t use the number 77 because Washington Redskins starting guard Shawn Lauvao wears jersey #77. Christ used 77 as shorthand for: always forgive the penitent brother.

Anyone ever seen Hamlet? That play would seem to have the opposite moral. Instead of “always forgive,” Hamlet focuses on revenge.

The evil uncle killed the good father, secretly, in cold blood, to steal the throne and the queen. The dead king’s ghost visits young Prince Hamlet, demanding revenge. Young Hamlet devises a stratagem by which to test the ghost’s story. Turns out the ghost speaks truth. So here comes revenge. At the end of the play, everyone winds up dead. No forgiveness; just brutal revenge.

Except: Young Hamlet and his nemesis Laertes forgive each other before they die. And the evil uncle Claudius tries to beg God for mercy. And the queen admits to Hamlet that she has done wrong in marrying her dead husband’s brother. And Ophelia begs mercy from God for everyone…

ASC HamletChrist told the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant to illustrate his 77-pardons theme. In the parable, the king intended to settle accounts. When he did so, no one quibbled with the accuracy of his records. His accounts showed his servant in debt to him. The servant did not deny it. To the contrary, the servant, presented with the truth, humbled himself before its very accuracy.

‘Yes, yes! I owe you big time! Just give me another chance.’

And the king took a haircut, as they say in the banking world—he faced the fact that he wasn’t getting the money the servant owed him. Then the king gave the servant a fresh start.

Thus do we see mercy and righteousness kiss: Everyone faces the full, ugly truth. Then everyone starts fresh. Mercy does not mean: no reckoning. It doesn’t mean running away from the truth; skip the facts; just pretend everything’s fine and nice!

No. Forgiving happens when the parties agree on the painful, evil, unpleasant facts. And then start over.

Prince Hamlet did not exactly proceed down the path of Christian mercy. He did a fair amount of stabbing with his rapier. On the other hand, there was something rotten in the state of Denmark. It would hardly have been merciful for the prince to pretend otherwise.

In fact, the greater the evil, the more merciless the truth feels to the conscience that, deep down, knows it’s guilty. Mercy does not come in the form of a goose feather pillow. It comes as a bracing, cold bath. But nothing can refresh the soul more. Facing the truth. And getting a fresh start. With all the dials set back to zero.

Parable of the Two Sons

Our reading at Holy Mass today from the prophet Zephaniah refers to the ‘remnant of Israel,’ a people ‘humble and lowly,’ who ‘take refuge in the name of the Lord’ and ‘do no wrong and speak no lies.’

As we know, beginning with Abraham, the Lord had established an alliance with His chosen people, according to which they could purify themselves of selfishness and worldliness and await the coming of the Messiah in peace. But the leaders of ancient Israel let themselves get distracted by other, relatively trivial things, just like pagans. So only the quiet, prayerful ‘remnant’ persevered in the alliance: Israelites who, no matter what happened, always come back to the Lord in prayer.

Lord Jesus’ little parable about the vintner with two sons draws us into the heart of the question: who exactly counts as a true Israelite? Spoken words and other exterior signs do not, in and of themselves, indicate anything. As one of the Fathers of the Church put it, in explaining this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is not in words but in deeds.”

darth_vader
Rogue One? If Darth Vader is involved, count me in.

The picture the Lord paints in the Parable of the Two Sons is exceedingly homey, utterly middle-class. The sons of big-time vineyard owners could work or not work, as it suited their whims. But the salt of the earth, small-time vintners needed the labor of their children in order to keep the operation viable.

The parable gets even more homey once the action starts. What parent hasn’t had this experience? “Dear child of mine, would you please work in my vineyard today/clean up your room this afternoon/pick up your little sister on your way home from basketball practice/[fill in any other perfectly reasonable request aimed at keeping the household going]?” only to be met with a petulant, irrational, “No! Can’t you see I’m an adolescent in a bad mood! Don’t talk to me about your chores when I am desperately trying to figure out the meaning of life by stewing in my own immature juices!”

But then: this same fleetingly difficult child actually does wind up picking up his or her little sister, because he/she figured out that honest co-operation leads to greater happiness than endless self-centered brooding does.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, little Mr. or Mrs. Perfect Goodytwoshoes says all the right things and yet remains trapped inside his or her little perfectionist narcissistic world.

Now, we Christians enjoy the great benefit of knowing precisely Who the Messiah is, what He is like, what work He willed to accomplish while on earth, and how all His teachings can help us live right. This gives us a huge advantage over even the holiest of the ancient Israelites, all of whom had to live in a state of uncertainty on these matters.

We know that humbly co-operating with Jesus Christ in the work of helping souls attain salvation—we know that this offers the greatest happiness available to us mortals in this life. So let’s get over all of our petulant little moody fits, so that we can spend the time we have on earth laboring in Christ’s good vineyard.

I promised a superior translation of Boris Pasternak’s “Mary Magdalene.” I present those parts of the poem that benefit from a better rendition in English…

As soon as night falls, my tempter is beside me
He is the debt I pay to my past
Memories of debauchery
Come and suck at my feet
Memories of myself, a salve to men’s whims,
A fool, out of my mind,
To whom the street was shelter.

A few moments remain,
Then comes the silence of the tomb.
Having reached the end of the world
I break my life before you
Like an alabaster box.

Oh, where would I be now,
My teacher and my savior,
If eternity did not await me
At the table, at night,
Like a new client
Caught in the net of my craft?

But, tell me, what is the meaning of sin,
Of death, hell, fire and brimstone,
When before the eyes of all
I have grown one with you in my boundless sorrow
As the graft grows one with the tree?

And perhaps, Jesus, holding your feet on my knees,
I am learning to embrace
The square shaft of the cross,
Losing consciousness as I strain your body to me
Preparing you for burial.

 

The columns of the guards will re-form
And the horsemen will ride away.
Like a windspout in a storm, the cross above my head
Will strain towards the sky.

And I will fall at its feet,
Silent and dazed, biting my lips.
Your arms will spread out to the ends of the cross
To embrace too many.

For whom in all the world
Is your embrace so wide,
For whom so much torment,
So much power?

In all the world
Are there so many souls?
So many lives?
So many villages, rivers and woods?

Comfort for Little Ones

It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost. (Matthew 18:14)

sheepFirst, let’s raise our hands to make it perfectly clear that we certainly do consider ourselves “little ones.”

Gamboling little sheep with little brains.

We acknowledge that we are highly prone to disorientation. And, once disoriented, we find ourselves utterly defenseless.

So: Yes, we see that we are very small and shaky, Lord. As the prophet Isaiah put it: We are like grass that can and will wilt.

Second, let’s rejoice in knowing the will of our heavenly Father.

Our first reading at Holy Mass today paints the grand picture: “A rugged land shall be made plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” The Lord comes with power to gather his lambs, and He leads his ewes with care. He makes it possible for us little lambs to travel to the holy mountain.

The good God has a kind heart. He wills our salvation, not our demise. He intervenes to help us elude the wolves. By using these lovely pastoral metaphors, the Son of God has revealed the secret center of everything. The secret center of everything is: God’s tender love.

 

Happy New (Liturgical) Year! We present: the Baby Thief

If the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  (Matthew 24:43)

Two points regarding this sentence uttered by Jesus Christ:

1. Petty thefts occurred every night in ancient Israel. Most people lived in small homes made of mud bricks. Your roof served as the bedroom. A thief could quietly claw a hole in the mud at the foundation of the house, crawl inside, and steal your valuables as you slept. Then you wake up in the morning, climb down the ladder to start making breakfast, and all your pots and pans have disappeared! Not to mention your figs and wine.

2. In this parable, the thief who breaks into the house represents…The Lord. The Son of Man. The Messiah. God’s anointed. Maybe that seems strange, God stealing things. Doesn’t mean thou shalt not steal no longer counts as a commandment. Thou still shalt not steal. But God will come like a thief. To steal what?

That appears to be the question. What does baby Jesus come to steal? Little baby Whose birthday comes in exactly four weeks, the newborn Son of Man. He came suddenly into this world–to steal something.

paul simonTo answer this question, let’s consider this: One image appears repeatedly in the first reading and psalm of today’s Holy Mass. The Temple of the Lord, the house of Jacob, the house of David, the great stronghold of the city of Jerusalem: not a mud-hut susceptible to burglars. Rather, a fortress of peace.

“May peace be within your walls! …From His holy mountain, God will instruct us in His ways, and we shall beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” Peace.

We might complain that the western world has lost the Christian faith and no longer knows the reason for the season. But everyone knows: Christmas means peace. The newborn child comes to Bethlehem as the Prince of Peace. God Almighty, the awesome, the terrifyingly holy: He has come to the world as a defenseless baby, armed not with spears and arrows, or flaming thunderbolts, but only with ‘eyes as clear as centuries.’*

What does He come to steal, this gentle baby Son of Man? Doesn’t His arrival, in and of itself, steal our pretexts for hating each other? Doesn’t He take away our reasons for violence? Doesn’t baby Jesus invade our little egos, so as to clear out all the self-serving nonsense that we keep stored in there, that sets me against my brother?

I may find myself desperately attached to the idea of myself as a bigshot. I may base my entire worldview on “us good people” vs. “those dirty people.” Maybe I have convinced myself that I deserve all the fanciest new voice-activated gadgets, like the little canister that I can talk to and make my lawn-sprinklers come on, at my command. And I’ve decided I will use it against my annoying mailman.

wise-menBut the little baby of Bethlehem comes to dig into us, into the little mud-huts of our souls, and steal every self-aggrandizing delusion out of our egos. When I contemplate the Prince of Peace, laid in an animals’ manger; when I reflect that this is God Almighty–my sense of my bigshot self has to go out the window.

I meditate on Our Lady nursing the cooing baby, and I have to recognize: God has acted with this kind of peaceful compassion towards me. Even though I certainly don’t deserve it. Even though God really has every right to distrust me or even smack me in the face. But instead He comes in peace.

So how can I hate my neighbor? How can I lash out at that bad driver? How can I continue to pile up loot and chase after silly trifles, without giving at thought to other peoples’ struggles?

The Prince of Peace came to turn enemies into friends. St. Augustine described how we will, please God, sing Alleluia together, in heaven. Here’s how the saint put it:

O, what a happy alleluia there–how carefree, how safe from all opposition, where nobody will be an enemy, where no one will ever cease to be a friend!

A very clever thief, this baby. We contemplate Him, born of a penniless mother, in a stable with the animals. The bottomless peace of His humble birth steals every pretext I could possibly come up with to harbor resentment in my heart. He fleeces my soul of all the empty pride I have piled up there, the lies and half-truths that make me think I’m better than so-and-so. Just by being born in peace, the Son of Man steals all that and carries it away like a thief in the night.

Then, all we have left is: His divine love. These little mud-huts we have for souls can become His everlasting Temple, the stronghold of God’s peace.

____________

* from Paul Simon’s “Born at the Right Time”

Quiet Profit in the Parable of the Minas/Pounds

The nobleman called in ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins.  One of them gained ten more, and then took charge of ten cities.  I think we can deduce that this emphasis on ten should remind us of the Ten…

moses_ten_commandmentsRight.  Commandments.  We have a lot of friends in this life.  But none of them help us more than our dear friends, the Ten Commandments.

The parable takes a little turn: we only hear about the success or failure of three of the servants.  The other seven go without further mention.

Now, the hero of the parable turned a 1000% profit on his original endowment.  The second hero earned 500%.  The hapless, timorous, self-centered goat of the parable earned a big goose-egg.

Can we safely assume that the other seven earned somewhere between nothing and 500%?  Can we assume that they gave it their best shot?  But, not having heroic qualities, they turned a respectable, but unremarkable, quiet profit?

I hope I can accomplish that much.  I give credit to all of you heroes who can accomplish so much more.  All of us have endowments of some kind, and we can turn a profit for the glory of God by loving our neighbors fearlessly.  If it’s only a 50% or 75% profit, maybe we won’t wind up in charge of any cities.  But at least we will have loved God with all that we had.

Parable of the Dishonest Steward

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.

homer1
slack-jawed discipleship

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.

ace-of-heartsWe 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.

memento-moriAbove 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.