25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1. Amos 8: 4-7
Reading II. 1 Timothy 2: 1-8
Gospel. Luke 16: 1-13 (the unjust steward).
One of the key messages of the Hebrew Scriptures is the obligation to care for the lowly and the poor. All were expected to act as good stewards on behalf of those in need. In today's first reading the Prophet Amos claims that his people have not only failed to come to the aid of the needy, but that they are actually cheating those they are supposed to help.
For these oppressors the service of God and their neighbor is of no value. The unscrupulous business practices that Amos points out in his own time have their counterparts in our time. It was common in ancient times to debase the coinage or medium of exchange used in business dealings. To diminish the ephah or add to the shekel was a way of cheating the unwary. In the same way adjusting scales to give false readings was a way to give less value for the money.
Today, most forms of cheating in business seem far removed from our ordinary lives. Most of us will never be involved in nefarious Wall St. scandals that will see us led off to jail in handcuffs. Most of us will never be in a position to embezzle thousands from our employer. Most of us will never be like illegitimate building contractors who take money but never complete the job.
Today’s gospel is about another crook, the unjust steward. He was cheating his own master or employer. You may recall that last week’s gospel was also about someone who squandered his master’s wealth. Last week it was the Prodigal Son. Today’s gospel follows immediately after that famous parable in St. Luke’s gospel and there is good reason. While there are similarities in the two stories, there is a profound difference.
In last week’s gospel the Prodigal Son, after squandering his father’s inheritance, realized what he had done, repented, confessed, and begged for forgiveness. In today’s account the unjust steward, after squandering his master’s wealth, neither repents nor asks for forgiveness. He just seeks a way out but only gets deeper and deeper into crime. He goes to his master’s debtors and does them favors by cheating his employer further. He’s hoping that these debtors will remember and reward him. After all, he admits that he dislikes hard work, and is too ashamed to beg.
People have wondered why the master seems to “commend” the unjust steward for his criminal behavior. “And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.” Personally, I detect sarcasm here. It’s as if the master was saying, “Sure, hang out with those bums. Just wait and see what happens. Why would any of those debtors ever trust the steward when they know that he has cheated his own master? Even crooks understand the words of today’s gospel.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
Is also trustworthy in great ones;
And the person who is dishonest in very small matters
Is also dishonest in great ones.
Politicians like to tell us today that there is a difference between private and public morality. They think that they can cheat on their spouses but serve their constituents faithfully. Nevertheless, deep down we all know that if they are unfaithful to their own spouses, why should they be faithful to us?
In today’s second reading St. Paul asks us to pray for those in authority. He must have known how difficult it would be for people in power to be faithful and just stewards. Still, it is clear that it is not just political leaders who are called to be stewards. We are all called to stewardship. We must follow the example of Jesus “who gave himself as a ransom for all.”
We have all been entrusted with the responsibility to care for others. Husbands and wives have the responsibility to care for each other. It’s amazing to me how often people in business will treat their clients with the greatest care and respect, but ignore the needs of their spouses. In another place, St. Paul tells us that single people have an even greater responsibility to care for others. Speaking of responsibility don’t we make a great mistake when we give our children little or no responsibility?
Even though most of us are just ordinary people, we are all called to be stewards. In the eyes of those who have been entrusted to our care we are the biggest shots of all. Why on earth would we turn our backs on our loved ones to make friends with the “mammon of iniquity”?