The Gospel today is one that always seems to call for a little explanation. Taken at face value, Our Lord seems to be advocating theft in order to provide for one’s future well-being—steal from the rich master in order to obligate his creditors to you. Obviously, that cannot be—so what must Our Lord intend with this parable?
It may help to refer back to the reading of the Epistle for a clue. In it Saint Paul is telling the Roman converts to the Church that they have received “the spirit of adoption”—literally, they have (and we have) become the adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. As such, it is appropriate for us to call upon Him as our Father—Paul uses the Aramaic word “Abba,” which seems to mean “Father” in all of the Semitic languages.
Now, if God is our Father, it is reasonable that the family’s goods belong to us in some measure, and that we have the right to make use of them for our benefit, and for the benefit of our brothers and sisters. In purely material terms, an adult son or daughter would be justified in making a reasonable trade of the family’s surplus goods for some advantage. Provided that the family is wealthy enough, he might take a few bottles of oil, a few bushels of wheat, or a pair of goats, and trade them wisely for something of greater benefit or future benefit. Indeed, the father might accuse him of a lack of ambition if he didn’t occasionally make such trades. (“Don’t expect me to do everything around here!”)
The idea of the parable is that God, Our Father, has richly conferred the goods of nature and the goods of the spirit upon us, expecting us ambitiously to make good and proper use of them: “goods of soul and body, of grace and nature: faith, intellect, memory, free will; and five senses, health, strength of body, beauty, skill, power over others, time and opportunity for good, temporal riches,” and so forth. We may have these gifts in various proportions—probably no two people are equally gifted in every respect —but we all have some of these gifts of our Father that we can trade for our natural and our eternal well-being.
In the world, most people have figured out the idea of using these gifts in exchange for worldly goods—we use our strength or our skill to produce something that other people want and are willing to pay us for. Within the bounds of morality, there is nothing at all wrong with that—honest work is a good thing—but I would suggest that we recognize where our “trade goods” actually come from—in reality, it is not my strength or my skill that I am trading, but rather God the Father’s strength and skill (even if it is my back that is sore after making the trade!). Recognizing this simple fact should make the earning of our daily bread a considerably more holy affair.
We also must recognize that the goods which God has given us can be traded to acquire goods that are spiritual and eternal—that is the point of today’s Gospel—and Abba, our Father, will hold us accountable for our lack of ambition if we fail regularly to do so. Again, no two people are equally gifted in every respect, but everyone can do some-thing to trade his gifts for a spiritual return.
Those with wealth can use it to make sure that none of the neighbors are hungry or naked or cold; that none go without necessary medicine; that no one goes without burial when the time comes. Those with less may still visit the sick and the imprisoned. Even the weakest among the poor may still help at some times—certainly they can pray—and certainly all of God’s people can offer the Spiritual works of Mercy to those with those sort of needs: “Admonish the sinner, Instruct the ignorant , Counsel the doubtful, Comfort the sorrowful, Bear wrongs patiently, Forgive all injuries, Pray for the living and the dead.”
Remember that when we do good for the least of His brethren, we do good for Christ Himself.
But, whatever it is that we do—no matter how great or how small our strengths and skills may be, it is essential that we recognize that we are using our Father’s strengths and skills—that they have been only loaned to us. We are welcome to make use of Abba’s patrimony, but we must use it as He would use it. One may have an enlightened self-interest to be sure. But one must avoid the vice of the Pharisees, who did good only to be seen doing good by other men. Our gifts and trades must be made out of love—with love for our Father in Heaven, and with love for our brothers and sisters, whom He also loves.
“You have not received the spirit
of bondage again in fear,
 Fr. Leonard Goffine, The Church's Year, “Instruction on the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost” http://sspxasia.com/Documents/The_Church_Year/Pentecost_8th_Sunday.htm