“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” (Lk 16:3)
In today’s Gospel, the Steward exhibits the natural tendency of the human heart when it’s in a bind – it turns to dishonesty to escape its just punishment. The man has been told that he is to be fired because he has been wasteful – he has squandered his master’s goods. He has been a sloppy manager of the good things, the gifts, the talents, the wealth with which he has been entrusted. So, what does he do? He resolves to defraud his master yet one last time.
He could apologize, right? He could make restitution to his master, right? He could take his lumps and, though he’s old and proud, take on menial labour to live out the rest of his life in penance for his careless wastefulness and dishonesty. But that’s not what he does. He decides to add insult to injury and cheat his master just because he can. For the Steward, deceit had become a way of life; and while he wasn’t perfectly successful in his deceitfulness, he was pretty good at it. The master though could not be fooled, he caught him in his original offenses and he also caught him in his final attempt to defraud him.
What does the master do? He “commends the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” And our Lord explains why; “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light,” (in other words, the Children of God (us) are fools by comparison with the Children of Belial as regards planning for our future). Our Lord concludes with this cryptic statement; “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
We’re all familiar with what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. But before their destruction, these two vibrant cities played an interesting role in the life of our Patriarch, Abraham (though at this time in his life he was still called Abram). There was once a great battle in the verdant plain in which Sodom and Gomorrah lay: it was the battle of The Five Kings (two of whom were of Sodom and Gomorrah) against The Four Kings. The Four Kings thoroughly defeated the Five Kings and looted their cities taking captive men, women and children among whom was Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Abraham, learning of their defeat and his nephew’s abduction, came to the aid of The Five Kings and, with his own army, pursued The Four Kings, overtook them and smote them with the edge of the sword. Then he brought back all that had been lost by The Five Kings.
While returning, Abraham ran into Melchizedek, priest and king of Salem, and he gave to Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoils taken from The Five Kings. Furthermore, when he arrived at Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham gave back to the them all that had been taken by The Four Kings – Abraham would not accept any gifts or payment from those kings saying; “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing” (Gen 14:22-3).
You might wonder why I am telling you about Abraham and the battle of The Nine Kings instead of explaining today’s Gospel. Well, the fact is this event in the life of Abraham perfectly illustrates what Our Lord is trying to teach us in today’s Gospel. Abraham is our example if we are to be “more shrewd in dealing with our own generation” than even are the children of darkness. The children of darkness – the devil himself – plan and contrive the best way to move forward their agenda and to achieve their goals; but most Christians are content to lazily let their life of faith roll out however it just so happens to happen. Abraham was wiser than us as he was wiser than all his contemporaries. He looked for our Lord’s Day, and seeing it afar off, he refused to put himself under the children of wickedness who dwelt in the plain of Sodom and Gomorrah. He instead made a tithe of all his wealth to Melchizedek who had offered Bread and Wine to the Most High God of Heaven and Earth, and in doing so Melchizedek blessed Abraham.
Our Lord tells us to; “make friends for ourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome us into the eternal homes.” This is why the disciples were later amazed when they were told that it is harder for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Our Lord saw that though the rich are wise in the ways of the world, they are fools in the ways of God. They expend their best resources, their best ideas, their life’s energy serving the needs of their flesh – things that will pass into dust – while they offer second, third or fourth best to God. This is not to say that the poor are better stewards of anything than the rich – probably worse, to be honest; but that’s really beside the point. The service we offer to others, be they our master or our servant (rich or poor), is service that in truth is rendered to God. Remember, the eye of God sees all. If we fulfil our obligations in His sight, He will abundantly bless us. Saint Paul bids us to labour, not as men-pleasers, but, in all things, to labour as though we laboured for Christ Himself; we do not serve the will of man, but the will of God, “knowing that whatever good we do [for the Lord], we will receive the same again from the Lord” (Ep. 6:6-8).