Eighth Sunday after Pentecost—18 July A.D. 2010
Unjust stewards, restitution, almsgiving.
“Make friends of the mammon of wickedness that when you fail they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.”
In more modern language, our Lord seems to be telling us to “make use of the goods which we control in the world, in order to make others indebted to us, so that they will take care of us when we are in need.”
This is one of those chapters which usually troubles people when they hear it read at Mass each year. If we take it literally, our Lord seems to be encouraging us to be dishonest; to use other people's wealth in order to make our own position secure. Obviously, He doesn't intend to make thieves of us—but this story which He told does lend itself to being interpreted in several ways.
First, we can think of it as a warning—a reminder that we will probably encounter people like the Unjust Steward now and then in our own lives. There will be people who will try to use our labors for our benefit—we should not give them the opportunity—should not cooperate in their theft.
It is a reminder too, that those unwilling to apply themselves to honest work will often hold on tight to jobs which they have no right to fill. —The politician who knows how to spend other people's money, but could never earn any of his own—the boss who has risen to his “level of incompetence,” and isn't really sure what his employees do, let alone how to do it himself—the priest who has lost his faith, but who would rather spread doubt and disbelief rather than getting a job out in the “real world.” Some of these Unjust Stewards will use not only your wealth, but will take your soul as well!
When our Lord spoke this parable, He most likely intended to remind people of the need to make use of the spiritual goods which we have, in order to lay up treasure in heaven. Our Lord was praising the Unjust Steward's common sense—he didn't need to be told how to take care of himself. Likewise, we should be reminded to make use of the goods of our Master—goods like the Mass and the Sacraments; goods like prayer and fasting, first Fridays and first Saturdays; goods like the Rosary, the Scapular, and the Miraculous Medal, and even just plain old Holy Water.
Nobody wants to go the hell; not even to purgatory, if we could avoid it. Yet how many people make the maximum use of the spiritual goods available to avoid such a fate. They may come to Mass on Sunday and receive Communion—but what about Confession? -- are we all that perfect that we no longer need the Sacrament? Do we pray when no one tells us to?—even though we don't have to? How about the Mass or a Rosary during the week? Our Lord is telling us that if we just exercised the common sense of the Unjust Steward, we could make our salvation assured.
We can also use this parable as the occasion for thinking about the 7th Commandment; Thou shalt not steal.
Most of us know that we are not supposed to take other people's things. But the commandment also includes a prohibition against destroying them for no reason, or, like the Unjust Steward, using their goods for our gain.
And it should also be obvious that stealing of any kind calls not only for Confession and forgiveness, but also for restitution—giving back what we took or destroyed or used up. It doesn't take too much imagination to realize that the Steward owes his former master 50 barrels of oil and 20 quarters of wheat.
This issue of restitution is so serious, by the way, that it continues even if the injured party is no longer around to receive it. We are bound by justice then to give such ill-gotten wealth to charity. Even if we couldn't possibly face the person from whom we stole, we are obliged to make restitution in secret.
The Catechism of Trent suggests that this is also a good opportunity to speak about our duty to give “alms”—to share our surplus wealth with the poor. St. John tells us that if we have the goods of the world, yet we close our heart to the poor, we cannot possibly have the love of God in our heart. If Jesus Christ could give His life for our salvation, we must feel obligated to look out for our neighbor. And, of course, our deeds of charity aren't necessarily restricted to money. In fact, they are often more effective if they are personal acts—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and so on.
In St. Matthew's Gospel, our Lord puts our obligation toward the disadvantaged in very cold and hard terms: “Depart from Me, accursed ones into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
So rather than thinking the unthinkable—that our Lord is urging us to dishonesty—we can draw several profitable lessons from this parable of the Unjust Steward:
Be on your guard—there are many Unjust Stewards in our own world.
Be quick to restore -- even what you take or damage accideentally.
Be charitable -- don't expect good things from God, while being unwilling to do good for your neighbor.
And perhaps above all, have the common sense of the Unjust Steward, which our Lord so richly praised. Make full of the spiritual gifts available to us here on earth, in order to secure your place in heaven.