THE gospel on the 25th Sunday in ordinary time is taken from Luke 16:1-13. Here Jesus teaches us about prudent stewardship.
In the parable, a rich man, having heard about the mismanagement of his property, summons his steward to give an account of his transactions and to fire him from his job. Worried that he no longer has the physical strength to do manual labor and ashamed to beg when finally dismissed from work, the steward decided to ingratiate his master’s debtors by reducing the amount of their indebtedness. If he does this, he thought, the debtors to whom he has extended favors will take care of him once he is booted out from work. Then the unexpected happens –“And the master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently,” we read in the gospel.
Really? Why so? What was Jesus’ point in the story?
The master commending the steward should not, in any way, be interpreted as Jesus’ endorsement of dishonesty. Rather, he was actually showing us the importance of exercising prudence in managing resources entrusted to us.
To be prudent is to act with a thought for the future. It is to apply foresight in what we do. The steward, dishonest as he was, used dishonest wealth to secure his future. Even as a wicked person, he was prudent enough to foresee what was coming and to use the resources at his disposal to prepare accordingly.
Jesus’ challenge is this: “If unbelievers, using ungodly ways, can be so prudent in building their temporal future, the more that believers, using Godly ways, must be prudent in preparing for their eternal future.” This, I believe, is the core message of this often misunderstood gospel.
Jesus continues by stressing the importance of trustworthiness in dealing with our possessions. He said, “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. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?”
In the final analysis, everything that we have does not really belong to us; we are mere stewards. The psalmist rightly declared, “The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, the world and those who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1). Solomon, on the other hand, pondering on the mortality of men, wrote, “As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands” (Ecclesiastes 5:15).
Truly, we are just caretakers of our possessions – money, property, strength, intelligence, talents, skills, relationships, and even our very selves. God is the real owner. As such we are to use our blessings not with a narrow perspective of time but with our eyes set on eternity, not in our own selfish ways but in ways expected of us by God – honoring his name and mindful of the needs of others. If we do so, at the end of our days, we will hear God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy” (Matthew 25:21).