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The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 18, 2016

Click here to listen to this homily (mp4 file)

     If you found the parable we just heard a bit puzzling and less than edifying, you are probably not alone.  This is one time Jesus seems more interested in embarrassing than edifying -- embarrassing the likes of you and me, “the children of the light,” as he calls us – shaming us into seeing just how far short we can fall of the “children of this age” when it comes to making the really important choices in life.  “The children of this age,” he says, “are more shrewd in dealing with their issues than are the children of the light.”

     But let’s be honest.  The parable is kind of irritating and it seems to reveal a different side of Jesus from the one we usually see in the gospels.  Jesus plays more the pragmatist than the prophet here.  He seems to want us to walk away from this parable scratching our heads, but also searching our souls about how astute we are when it comes to making the big choices of life – choices that impact our eternal destiny.  How astute we are, and how decisive.  And it doesn’t seem to matter if some of our decisions are prompted by motives that are downright selfish.  “Use this world’s goods to make friends for yourselves,” Jesus says, “so that when the goods are gone, you may be welcomed into the eternal kingdom.”  Any way you cut it, that sounds selfish.  Certainly not very lofty.

     In fact, “lofty” is not the word that comes to mind with this parable.  “Crafty” comes closer. “Learn from the dishonest steward,” Jesus says.  Not from his dishonesty but from his shrewdness, his craftiness. We are to be as shrewd and calculating in living our faith as we are in the mundane things of life: figuring our income taxes, sniffing out a bargain, closing a business deal, planning for our retirement.  If we are, Jesus says, we will reap some enviable benefits.  Heavenly benefits.  Like the steward of the parable, if we’ve played it right, if we’ve “made friends for ourselves by means of this world’s goods,” we will be welcomed one day into the eternal dwellings.

     And who is it that will be welcoming us one day into the eternal kingdom?  Let me give you my theory. I think it can only be the poor whom we heard about in today’s reading from Amos and sang about repeatedly in the responsorial psalm. Let me tell you why. In Luke’s gospel the poor are always the ones with the advantage: the poor are the lowly ones of Mary’s Magnificat: the ones God lifts up from the dust in order to put down the mighty and powerful; the poor are the first ones at the manger in Bethlehem; the poor are the blessed ones of the beatitudes; the poor are the sinful woman at Jesus’ feet and the repentant thief next to him on the cross.  Doesn’t it make sense, then, that the ones who will welcome us into the kingdom will be the poor?  And if that’s the case, wouldn’t we be well advised to use whatever worldly goods we may be blessed with to make friends with the poor?  Selfish?  Perhaps.  But also pretty enlightened.  I’d call it good investment strategy!

     But now let me shift and take another look at this parable by putting it in the larger context of Luke’s gospel.  The dishonest steward of today’s parable is not the only character in Luke’s gospel who acted shrewdly when he got into trouble by squandering the property of another.  You know the other character even better than you know this one.  He appeared in last week’s gospel in a very familiar parable.  His name is the Prodigal Son.  The prodigal son who sinfully squandered his inheritance on licentious living wasn’t much different from today’s dishonest steward who squandered his master’s property by cooking the books.  And when it came to saving his skin, the Prodigal Son exhibited motives just about as noble as the dishonest steward.  You remember: when he woke up to how lonely and hungry and far from home he was -- and how his father’s hired hands were a lot better off than he was -- he suddenly had a conversion.  A genuine conversion, I’m sure, but a rather self–serving one, too - not unlike the conversion of the unjust steward who, when faced with imminent unemployment, quickly realized that he’d better do something quickly because he was unable to dig and ashamed to beg.

     My friends, neither the unjust steward nor the prodigal son are paragons, that’s for sure.  But give them both credit for being decisive and enterprising.  And give God credit for doing the rest.  After hearing today’s parable, and relating it to the parable of the prodigal son, I find myself thinking how wonderful it is that Jesus is able to use these all-too-human, even sleazy sorts (a prodigal son, an unjust steward) to tell stories about God’s grace and goodness.  I find it encouraging, don’t you?  We may not have histories as colorful or as compromised as the prodigal son’s or the unjust steward’s (or maybe we have even more colorful or compromised histories. No matter.)  Jesus says there is room for us.  Room for us in the embrace of a God whose mercy knows no bounds.  We have a God with a Midas touch, if I may put it that way.  A God whose grace and mercy can turn even the basest of human motives into pure gold.   

Father Michael G. Ryan

  

 

 

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