I remember as a child hearing the story of Robin Hood and even at that age I wondered why he would be considered a hero for anyone. He stole from the rich to give to the poor. Without the vocabulary in those early years, what I was feeling and questioning was “Does the end justify the means?” Is doing something wrong for a good purpose make it right? It seems Jesus is saying yes – it is okay to use dishonest wealthy to your advantage…and even commends the steward for his prudence.
Parables are meant to shock or puzzle us in order to make us think differently and deeply.This parable really throws us for a loop due to its surprising recommendations. We have to really work at this one in order to seek out its truth. But when it is found…we have a pearl of great price. How different this conclusion is from the previous parable, where the prodigal son squandered his father’s money but is forgiven and embraced back into life. However, in this parable the dishonest steward squanders his master’s money and is fired and forced to leave.
When the servant saw the money as his, he spent it carelessly and squandered it. But when he is fired he realizes that none of the wealth belongs to him. So he begins to give it away freely. This is a great lesson to those of us who know that nothing we possess is our own. Everything is on loan. In the Rule, St Benedict quite emphatically tells us that “without the order from the abbot, no one may presume to give, receive, or retain anything as our own nothing at all – not a book, writing tablet, or stylus – in short, not a single item,” Benedict is asking us to live in the truth when he says “we are not to presume to call anything our own”. (RB 33) The lesson of this parable, and in our Rule, is often repeated to us today through events of natural disasters, and it remains no less shocking or hard to understand. Like the recent floods in Colorado or the wild fires in AZ that swept away homes in an instant…and even lives. Jesus is telling us while still on earth spend yourself frequently, freely, and fully.
Ekanath Esawarn talks about three forces that compel humans to live in the ways of the world. He categorized them with 3 P’s: Possessions, Prestige, Power…these are the driving forces of the world. We see how some people will do anything to have control, or wealth, or even 15 minutes of fame! The film industry is based on stories of these three themes with its complicated plots of murders, romantic betrayal, conspiracies, and espionage. There are so many popular movies out now where groups (alien or earthly) fight to control the whole world.
But Jesus is telling us to be ambitious for heavenly things – be clever as foxes, be bold, and fight the good fight. If our goals are of heavenly things, then the means will always entail something of Christ Jesus, where he is seated at the right hand of God. So there will always be a certain poverty of spirit, humility and service along the way – the exact opposite of the 3 P’s of this world. If we are trustworthy with the graces that come from God and are given to us on loan, then they will be given to us eternally. So “let us set our minds on things that are above and not on things that are on earth.” (Col 3:2) Let us spend this time on earth doing heavenly things, with good purpose and prudence, and we will possess them forever…things like love, truth, goodness, beauty. These are things eternal but not always seen on earth. These are things we are to be devoted to and the opposite things are to be despised. The list is great but consists of small matters. This is where we are tested…in the small, everyday activities.
To drive the message home, I would like to use an analogy of baseball, which I know almost nothing about!!! However, I do know that every good pitcher is one who throws a challenging ball every time it leaves the mound…and a good pitch often has a curve ball. So what is being tossed our way by Jesus in this parable?
Ball 1: Seek wealth…Be ambitious and use tainted money to gain Possessions. The first “P”!
But it is a Curve Ball…there is a twist…for our true riches are in heaven – Mathew says, “Sell all you have, give the money to the poor, and then you will be rich in heaven” (Mt 19:21) “Blessed are the poor – yours is the kingdom of God”. (Lk 6:20) Therefore, seek wealth…by selling all!
Ball 2: Be exalted…Be successful and Prestigious, which is “P” #2
But it also is a Curve Ball…for it is the humble who will be exalted; the last shall be first. (Lk 14:11) It is the meek who will inherit the earth. (Mt 5:5) Therefore, be exalted…by humbling yourself!
Ball 3: Be Powerful to get what you want and be in control.
Another Curve ball: Those who have authority and power are to serve others and be a servant to all. (Mt20:26+; Jn 13:16+) My power is made known in weakness. Therefore, be powerful…by being a servant to all.
Unlike the film industry which capitalizes on these 3 themes, St Paul condemns them telling us they will lead to three strikes, moving us out of the game. Rather he tosses out Ball #4 which, by the way in baseball, allows us to freely walk closer toward victory. He says to the Corinthians, God’s wisdom is folly to this world so be wise in this life by being “a fool for Christ”. No one likes to look the fool, but here it is: Be wise…and know that it will look like foolishness in the world.
But what would that home run be; what would it look like? I think Luke captures it again when Jesus says “lose your life in this world so you will gain it eternally… So gain eternal life by dying to self in this one. Let die any ambition for possessions, prestige, and power – these desires don’t fall away when we enter the monastery; it takes great effort for purity of heart.
So the question we can take away from this parable is: “Are we squandering any of God’s gifts given to us?” or to state it more positively, “what gift have I been given on loan that I can share more freely, frequently, and fully”? After reflecting on this, we are ready to go to bat, knowing victory will be ours! So let us be prudent and “Run while we have the light of life”! (RB Prol 13)