This is a reflection on the readings of today, Friday 4 November 2016, memorial of St. Charles Borromeo. (Philippians 3: 17-21.4:1; Psalm 121; Luke 16: 1-8).
“I have a cunning plan”. The steward in the parable today is thinking as Baldrick in Blackadder. He is caught wasting the property of his master and he is looking for a way out of his problems. He wants to save his job and himself, because he can’t motivate himself to go digging and he’s too proud to go begging. His lack in
humility entices him to find another means to save his skin. So he does what he is good at: he devises a cunning and dishonest plan.
The steward is an example of the corrupt administrator. Maybe you’re thinking: everyone does it. He’s just being smart and using his intelligence to get his way. It’s like someone who exhausts all means to pay as little taxes as possible and prides himself on the fact that he’s more cunning than the rest of us. Isn’t he doing what we all are doing? What we all would do in his stead? Or it’s like a bank seemingly going bankrupt, concocting a ‘cunning’ plan to be saved by taxpayer’s money all the while paying exorbitant salaries and bonuses to the executives. It’s the way of the world… and it’s deeply sinful.
A French priest said the following about this way of the world: “It is as those who have taken everything in their plates, leaving the plates of others empty and they say with a straight face and a clear conscience: “We, who have everything, we want peace.” We should tell them: the first warmongers, the instigators of all violence are you. It’s you, when in the evening in your nice houses you kiss your little children goodnight with a good conscience. In the eyes of God you have probably more blood on your hands than the hopeless will ever have when he takes arms to try to get out of his despair.”
If we follow the worldly way of proceeding, we will have blood on our hands. If the rich don’t use their money to help others, they will have blood on their hands. As St. Paul said: “They are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things. For us our homeland is in heaven.” In reality, we always have a choice. In life we can always choose between honour and injustice, between faithfulness and faithlessness, between altruism and selfishness, between dignity and corruption, between good and evil, between God and Satan. Just after this passage in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus makes the choice very clear: “You cannot serve both God and money” (Lk. 16, 13). Today, as yesterday, Christian life demands bravery to go against the current. Because in the end, only dead things go with the stream.
Today is the memorial of St. Charles Borromeo. He is an example of someone going against the stream. This 16th century archbishop of Milan lived in a time and place in Church history where there was a lot of corruption. He came from a rich aristocratic family and received his tonsure and a big income at only 12 years old. Despite this young age, Charles made clear to his father that his income was to go to his education and to the poor. No secular use could be made of it. When he was made a cardinal by his uncle, pope Pius IV, he committed to organising the third session of the Council of Trent and when he was appointed archbishop of Milan, he set about reforming the diocese and applying the decrees of the Council. As such, he became an example of how to translate Trent to the concrete reality. He was the first bishop of Milan in 80 years to actually reside in his diocese, he established seminaries, made a lot of pastoral visits and contributed in the creation of the Tridentine Catechism. He went against the worldly aspirations of some people of the Church. Because he rejected corruption and chose honesty and justice, some even tried to kill him. When Milan was hit by the plague, all authorities fled, but Charles remained. Borromeo is an example of a good administrator.
In today’s parable, by contrast, Jesus gives us a counterexample of Christian behaviour. And it’s a humoristic example. The cunning plan of the steward is really a Baldrick-like plan. His plan is to lower the debts in a ridiculously exorbitant way. In fact, his solution to the problem is to do exactly what he was accused of: to squander his master’s money. And in the end, “the master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness.” The master’s reaction is as preposterous as the cunning plan of the steward. Through humour, Jesus tells us something about the Kingdom of God by showing us the opposite. The economy of the Kingdom of God isn’t based on this form of bookkeeping cunning. It isn’t based on corruption and self-preservation.
The Gospel ends with the phrase: “For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light.” To preserve worldly pleasures and immediate gain, the children of the world use cunning plans. What Jesus is offering us, isn’t immediate and isn’t self-preservation. It goes against worldly thoughts. But he is offering us eternal life. He is inviting us as is the psalmist: “Let us go to God’s house.” To be able to do that, we must be cunning to resist temptation and choose to follow Christ under his banner. We should imitate the dishonest steward in being “wise as serpents”, but as Christians we should also be “innocent as doves” (Mt. 10, 16).
Being wise as serpents and innocent as doves is the real cunning plan that will give us life. But the dishonest steward “wouldn’t recognise [this] cunning plan if it painted itself purple and danced naked on a harpsichord singing ‘cunning plans are here again.’” May God grant us the grace of not making the same mistake and help us to choose the real cunning plan that leads to life.
Reflection by Pascal Calu nSJ
LAUS DEO SEMPER