Sunday, Sept. 18
Am 8:4-7; Ps 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8; 1 Tm 2:1-8; Lk 16:1-13
“What is this I hear about you?” (Lk 16:2) The question the master asks the steward at the beginning of the parable in this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 16:1–13) may at first glance make it sound as if there is gossip going on in the community. The master has heard this steward has been dishonest in some way — “(he) was reported to him” (Lk 16:1) — thus, someone has been talking about the steward. But the complaints against him seem to be well-founded, because the master decides to fire him.
We cannot be sure about exactly what is happening when the steward goes on to give discounts to his soon-to-be former customers. Was he taking a big cut for himself before and thus is merely giving them back what he had taken for himself, or is he cheating his soon-to-be former employer? While Scripture scholars do not agree on this point, Jesus’ interpretation remains the same: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk 16:9).
What do we want the Lord, our true Master, to “hear about” us? If we truly have a sense that all we have has been given to us to use as good stewards, taking care of the needs of others, then we will have “made friends for (ourselves … and) be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” How does this perspective on material wealth challenge us as American Catholics? How does it challenge me?
In our society, the belief that we have the right to do whatever we want with what we have runs very deep. In the political realm, the difference between right and left focuses not on whether that is true, but on where that right to freedom is most important, whether we are talking about economic rights or to own a gun or to be free from being offended by others or to life or to sexual liberty or determining my own identity (and many others I could mention).
The fallacy that undergirds them all is the failure to see ourselves as stewards of our lives and of the world and all that we personally have custody of. We all need to render account to the Master, who is the one we can only serve if we serve no other master: “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16:13).
Already in this Sunday’s first reading, the prophet Amos bore witness against those who were unjust in matters of business, especially towards the poor: “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! … The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!” (Am 8:4, 7).
Injustice will always carry a price. We do not always want to talk about that, because it seems to conflict with the image of a loving and merciful God. But God’s mercy and love begin with his love for the victims of injustice, with his mercy for those who are begging for justice from their oppressors.
The reason we can be full of hope, even as we hear Jesus call us and our society to account is because of something we hear in the second reading this Sunday. “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all” (1 Tm 2:5–6a). None of us has been perfect in our stewardship of all the Lord has given us to care for, and so we could all be “fired.”
An image that comes to mind is that Jesus has appeared in the ultimate episode of Undercover Boss. He came into the world “in disguise” and has certainly determined that all that he had heard about his “employees” is true, and worse. Yet, rather than fire the lot of us, he calls us to begin anew. If we can recognize our false understandings of freedom and seek truly to offer “supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings … for everyone (1 Tm 2:1), then we can open ourselves and the world to the many gifts the “one mediator between God and men” wishes to give us. Then, like the dishonest steward, we can turn the world on its head, not because of anything we can do on our own, but because of the grace given to us by Jesus Christ.
With all the focus on the death and preparation for burial of Queen Elizabeth II, there has been a great emphasis placed in recent days on the importance of praying for leaders of government and of state. St. Paul’s specific call to pray for our political leaders (cf. 1 Tim 2:2) hits a chord for us. But for our leaders and for us, the same call applies, to be found trustworthy in whatever small matters the Lord gives us to care for, so that we may be trustworthy in the great (cf. Lk 16:10).
By ourselves, we can’t do this, but in the power of Jesus Christ, we can be transformed ourselves and thus we can change the world. In this way, the Master, the only master we will serve, will hear about the great things that he has made it possible for us to do.
Father Alfredo Hernandez is the rector/president of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, located in the Diocese of Palm Beach.