The Parable of the Dishonest Steward
In his homily for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly helps us understand the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. This beautiful homily builds and builds to the most wonderful conclusion.
First Reading: Amos 8:4-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8
Second Reading: First Timothy 2:1-8
Gospel: Luke 16:1-13 or 16:10-13
If you’re a little confused by today’s gospel, you shouldn’t worry about it, because the best scripture scholars that I have ever read are also a bit confused. And, of course, there’s a couple of reasons for this.
One is our point of view. Another is we forget that it’s a parable. It’s not God speaking. It’s a parable.
We’re talking about the first part especially, the first part that says
A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.
And here, all of a sudden, we have another problem. It seems that the rich man is praising a dishonest man and, instead of apologising, he says everybody should be this way.
Because what the steward does, and he’s a very crafty steward, and an unjust steward, as he is called, what he does is, he’s in a very tight spot, what is he going to do? His master’s going to discharge him. He has been in charge of all the financing of the various debts. That’s what the steward of the house is. And now he will no longer have it.
So he’s going to make one last throw. And he calls all the debtors in and he starts giving them wonderful bargains: ten thousand bottles of oil, all this kind of way.
And, of course, what he’s doing is, he knows that, when he is fired as head steward, all these people are going to be indebted to him and they’re going to welcome him into their house and into their home and then he will be well taken care of.
Now the master of the house, he’s fairly shrewd. He knows what’s going on and instead of taking the man and wringing his neck for squandering all the money and throwing him in jail, he says to himself, now this is a very shrewd man, he’s got him cornered.
If he fires the steward and then calls the police and has him thrown in jail, the people are going to be very unhappy. His own people are going to be terribly unhappy because they’re going to feel that he has been unfair and he’s going to have a whole grumbling clientele of borrowers of money for a long time to come.
So what does he do? Well, what he does is he tells the steward that he is doing the right thing. And then we say, well he must be upset because he’s lying. Well, this is why we talk about it.
It’s a parable. It’s a story. It’s not a newspaper article.
What is the difference?
Do you remember the Prodigal Son? He took all his money, half of the money that his father had, and squandered it. Do you remember that story?
Well, think of the steward’s master as being like the father of the Prodigal Son. He doesn’t even wait for him to come home, forgives him before he even sees him. When he comes home, throws his arms around him, gives him anything he wants.
Why? Because the father is a prodigal lover and he loves his son and he will do anything for him. And the same with the second son.
Now there must have been a little bit of that in this man in today’s gospel, the rich man as he is called. The rich man knew that it was very hard times. He knew and he understood that when he had to dismiss the steward that he was going to fall on very, very difficult days with his wife and with his family.
And so when he saw how smart this steward was and how he had worked and he was very happy and he complimented him saying, “the children of this world are smarter than the children of light.”
What he meant by that is that the steward had this wonderful faculty of getting out of a very, very tight situation when perhaps the people above him were also a bit dishonest.
Now what does this mean? Think of it this way.
The steward is a man who is caught in his time. One of the things that happens is the steward is giving away a good part of his own money when he returns these things, because the way the steward made his money was not with a salary but he made money by taking a commission from all these things that he did.
So that part of the steward, he had to give away all his expectations of becoming rich.
And at the same time, being a crafty man, he probably pilfered a little bit of the money from his boss as well.
If you look upon this as the way we would look upon it in Hong Kong or any other way, we would say, “This steward should have been put in jail. Right is right. Fair is fair.”
The trouble is Jesus doesn’t look at people this way. When Jesus comes into a situation like this, he sits down with all of them, all the sinners, those who were trying to make money and losing it, because he loves not the sin but the sinner.
He sits down and eats with them. He is looked upon by the Scribes and the Pharisees as someone who makes friends with these kind of people.
And why would Jesus do that?
Why would he say righteously, “Put them all in jail”?
He wouldn’t. Because Jesus loves the sinner. And this, as Peguy the poet says, “When Jesus comes into this world, what we see is the weakness of God Himself, the vulnerability of God Himself, because he comes needing to be listened to and to be loved and to share his love with others.”
This brings him out of the whole picture of who is right, who is wrong, who is making money, who isn’t making money, who is good, who is bad.
For Jesus is the sign of the vulnerable God’s love for all human beings and we have to accept that from the start.
Nobody is punished by God. We say when we commit sin this is a wonderful revelation of Jesus: “I have come to heal. I have come to forgive. I have come to save. And there’s only one condition, that you must go out into your little world and heal and save and forgive and then you will understand what this world is all about.”
Last night I was at a very interesting liturgical function of the Jewish people. Yesterday was Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur, once a year, all the Jewish people must, no matter how far they have strayed from God, if you’re a real Jew, you will go to the Yom Kippur Day of Atonement call it celebration but it is all about…
And you must come fasting and you must go home after two and a half hours of prayer and moaning song.
And it has only one idea: how great is God and how much we need His forgiveness and how good is God and how badly we treat Him. We leave Him weeping over the world, this broken world that He has created to be whole and happy and true, and we have destroyed it by our sins.
And the wonderful thing about this is, remember, I always say this but people don’t really understand, but, if you want to be a good Christian, you have to first be a good Jew, because they are our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and Jesus did not come to create a new thing, he came as the Messiah of the Jewish people.
And so I sat there in this congregation. Most of the people, they were reformed Jews, because the Orthodox Jews do not allow anybody that is not a Jew to enter. But the reformed Jews, with the same ceremony for that, invite certain Westerners, certain non-Jews, to join with them on this Day of Atonement.
And it’s very moving and you will find nothing that new because all the prayers are taken from what we call the Old Testament, but you should begin to call the “Jewish Scriptures.” They don’t like this idea of being old and we are new. And it’s not necessary. So now, in modern books and translations, you will find the Old Testament has become the Jewish Scriptures, and the New Testament are the Christian Scriptures. I add that.
Now I’m going to end this somewhere along the line.
I don’t know if this fits, but it fits for me.
There’s an old story about Sufi, from the Sufi, do you know. I think you pronounce it Sufi. It’s the Indian religion, a special group, and they’re called Sufi. And they have these wonderful stories like the hasidim of the Jews.
And one of the stories is this young man comes to a merchant who sells jade.
I remember when I first came to Hong Kong, I was going to go out and buy something jade and about three people stopped me right away and they said if you don’t know jade you’ll be paying for nothing and you’ll spend a lot of money. You need someone who knows jade. And, if you know jade, you belong to a certain kind of group of special people.
Anyhow, the young boy goes up to the master of the jade market and he wants to learn how to make beautiful things. Now, to make beautiful things is this, he wants to make them out of jade.
And so the Sifu, the head one, he takes a stone and he puts it in his hand and he says, “Okay, go out and do whatever you like, go wherever you want, do anything at all, but don’t let go of this stone.”
So the boy goes out, comes back a week later, and the man looks at the stone and he still has it. And he said, “Did you sleep with the stone?” “Yes.” “Did you eat with the stone?” “Yes.” “Was the stone always with you?” “Yes.” “Okay, go out for another week now and do it again.”
And about the sixth week, the boy is getting a little upset and he comes in and then the master says, “Do you have the stone?” And he looks and he says, “Here’s the stone.” “And have you done all these things?” And he said, “Yes, I have.”
And he says, “Now you have the feel of beautiful jade. Never forget that feel. And then you can go out through the whole world and when you find the jade that feels like this, you will recognise it and you can buy that jade and make beautiful things for the rest of your life.”
Nice story, yes?
Think of it this way. It’s like a touch stone. It’s a way of authenticating and verifying the truth from the lies, the honesty from the dishonesty.
And we, as Christians, would say, are you ready for this now, Jesus is the touchstone.
Because, if we take Jesus into our lives, day and night, carrying him and holding him, even if at the beginning it’s awkward and we’re not sure whether it’s the right thing, but as you grow with the presence of Jesus in your life, then you will be able to understand if go out into the world you will see God is everywhere and you will be able to see Him because you have carried the gemstone of salvation in your own hands.
What Jesus, when he tells parables, what he wants us to do is not to point fingers and blame.
He wants us to understand that underneath the greedy, rich man, and underneath the little man who is trying to get ahead in a very dangerous world, and the people who probably cheat on their produce, that God walks by and Jesus walks by and he loves every one of them.
And because he looks for and finds God in them, his Father, then the world that is broken gradually becomes mended, and hope and love is given to the whole world.