I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9)
Today’s Gospel gives us one of the strangest of Jesus’ parables: The Dishonest Steward. The dishonest steward has been wasteful with his master’s property, and when he is caught out, instead of changing his ways, he continues in the same vein, writing off debts owed to his master in the hope that this will win him a few friends when he is sacked from his job.
One wonders if Jesus is holding up the steward as someone to be praised (“the master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness”). But a closer reading shows us that the point of the story is that Jesus is asking us to be astute with the gifts he has given us. Apart from the necessities of life, what is our money for? Is it so that we can complete our bucket list? Is it to amass goods that will allow us to live lives of comfort?
Jesus says, “Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tent of eternity.” In my imagination, I can picture myself after death, being brought out before God for judgement, and while the demons are crowding around and accusing me loudly of various acts of neglect and tightfistedness towards the poor, those souls who have lived lives of privation and suffering on Earth will be given the opportunity to speak up for me.
When I stand before God for judgement, will anyone come forward and say, “She helped me out when my family was going through hard times?”
At the moment I am on holiday in the land of my birth, South Africa, for the St Cyprian’s class of ‘76’s 40-year reunion. I count myself lucky to have been born in a country where great poverty exists (alongside great wealth, mind you) – because it is now prompting my conscience to find more opportunities for taking Jesus seriously on this question. Much of the conversation about money in Australia concerns superannuation, which is really about hoarding money for one’s own future provision. I’m not saying we shouldn’t provide for our retirement, but from a God’s eye view, it is more important for us to give money where it is needed here and now, rather than focus solely on a future that may never arrive. How do I know that God won’t take me to himself suddenly, and what provision have I made for my savings to go to those who are unable to lift themselves out of poverty? These are not easy questions, but God asks that we address ourselves shrewdly to how we allocate our resources, while we still have time, and not leave it to somebody else to do for us after we are dead or have become incapacitated by old age.
Changing the subject somewhat, the second reading from Paul’s letter to Timothy talks about our responsibility to pray for ‘kings and others in authority, so that we might be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet’. We need also to pray for our bishops, because the current charged atmosphere in Australia requires clear teaching and unambiguous language from our shepherds. During the past few weeks, we have had Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta Diocese giving the Ann D Clark Lecture at the Penrith Panthers Club, only to be represented in the media as supporting a change in church teaching on homosexuality. Fr Terence Mary Naughtin OFM Conv., Latin Mass chaplain for Wagga Wagga, has responded in detail to Bishop Long’s lecture, explaining where things might have been stated more accurately. It is clear from Fr Naughtin’s measured response that he has made every effort to be fair to Bishop Long, while at the same time not being afraid to speak up boldly for truth.
Corporal acts of mercy are always desired but they will never be as great or as merciful as the acts of love by which the Church rescues souls from sin and error and eternal damnation.
Bishops around Australia will need to be fearless in countering the threats and intimidation which are being levelled against Christians and Christian teaching, especially in the lead-up to the proposed plebiscite in February. No longer can we rely on a culture that is friendly to the church, when we can’t even book a hotel room to discuss traditional marriage, the foundation for a stable society.
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