A reflection offered on the Mass readings one evening last week:
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
This is an enigmatic Gospel which I found quite difficult to get to grips with. At first I feared that any interpretation or conclusion I made would see me deemed as ‘missing the point’. Then I realised that ‘missing the point’ is exactly what this Gospel is all about. This is what is wrong with the misguided steward in Jesus’ story to his disciples.
First of all, the steward’s initial response to losing his job is fairly pathetic. He bemoans that he is ‘not strong enough’ to dig or ‘too ashamed’ to beg. Already we see him with little faith and trust in himself, let alone in God. Then the imaginary light bulb flashes above his head and he realises ‘I know what I will do’. He tries to be generous to others, lessening their debt in order to make a quick buck for his master in return and, on the surface, this may seem shrewd. After all, he makes everyone happy – the debtors pay less and his master praises him for ‘astuteness’ since he gets some money back. Yet ultimately he is a foolish man who has got his priorities wrong because he has incorrectly assumed that money equates to happiness. He knows the price of everything yet the value of nothing.
In addition, I would argue that the steward’s master is equally foolish. After all, he is sufficed by the pathetic stewards’ supposed salvaging of this situation just because he has not lost as much money as previously thought. He is guilty of the same sin as the steward: he prioritises wealth and mistakes it as important. This is why Jesus concludes by stating ‘the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light’. The ‘children of light’ are Christians, people whose world and view of the world is illuminated by the light of their faith. Whereas the ‘children of this world’ are those like the steward and the rich master, who fumble around in the darkness, blinded and misguided by a false sense of what is important.
At this point I would like to compare this passage to two quotations from homilies of Pope Francis. In a June 2013 homily, Pope Francis said that:
‘All too often people do not choose life… but let themselves be led by ideologies and ways of thinking that block life, that do not respect life, because they are dictated by selfishness, self-interest, profit, power, and pleasure, and not by love, by concern for the good of others… It is the idea that rejecting God, the message of Christ, the Gospel of Life, will somehow lead to freedom, to complete human fulfilment. As a result, the Living God is replaced by fleeting human idols which offer the intoxication of a flash of freedom, but in the end bring new forms of slavery and death’.
Let’s ask ourselves: Who is the most enslaved and fearful character in this passage? It is not the people in debt, the poorest mentioned. It is the steward who has replaced his faith in God and the prophets with a devotion to money and a focus on a different kind of profits.
In a September 2013 homily, Pope Francis again told us that:
‘Whenever material things, money, worldliness, become the centre of our lives, they take hold of us, they possess us; we lose our very identity as human beings… material things which ultimately rob us of our face, our human face… If we don’t think about God, everything ends up flat, everything ends up about “me” and my own comfort. Life, the world, other people, all of these become unreal, they no longer matter, everything boils down to one thing: having. Those who run after nothing become nothing.’
Let’s ask ourselves: Who is the most dehumanised character in this passage? Again it is the steward. The debtors deal in life, purchasing products such as olive oil and wheat, ingredients to sustain life. On the other hand, the dehumanised steward sees these fruits of nature as mere objects with price tags and he’s so mummified in a life devoted to dishonesty that he refuses to consider digging or begging as alternatives.
And so, out of what seemed to be an enigmatic Gospel passage, emerges two clear paths. One option is for us to live out a life within a framework of faith, allowing ourselves to be guided by God’s commandments and Christ’s example in our daily lives. The other is the route taken by the steward, a life of blindness and blurred perspective, skewed by devoting ourselves to things of the world, not just wealth but anything that dehumanises our outlook and enslaves us to any master that isn’t God. Let us pursue the path of liberation and humanity which is illuminated by the light of our faith. Let us not be the ‘children of the world’ deprived of light. Let us be the ‘children of light’ who serve and improve the world.