Today’s Gospel story that we just heard proclaimed Jesus tells us of an inefficient steward who was about to be sacked by his master. So, he called all his master’s debtors and reduced the amount they owed. To our surprise, the steward’s master praised him for his actions. Furthermore, Jesus advised His listeners that being the “children of Light” they too should be as shrewd as the steward.
While we are all familiar with today’s Gospel story, many of us are either unsure of its meaning or probably have interpreted the story wrongly. One of the main reasons for this is because we cannot quite understand why Jesus first used the term “dishonesty” to describe the steward’s action, but later praises him for being shrewd. Surely, “dishonesty” and “shrewdness” both have different meanings.
To unravel this, let us remember that during the time of Jesus, it was not uncommon for stewards to receive large amount of commissions. As such, what happened in the Gospel account was that when the steward reduced the debts of the debtors, he was actually only deducting the portion of the commission that rightly belonged to him and not that of his master. In other words, the steward was not being dishonest. In fact, he was just being shrewd. He wanted to win the hearts of his master’s debtors in the hope of establishing a friendship with them so that, as he said, they would “welcome him into their homes” or even hire him when he later loses his job.
To all these Jesus explains further. He says, “I tell you this, ‘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 tents of eternity.” In other words, Jesus is advising us that we are each called and challenged to use “money” in such a manner that it will help us gain eternal life. In doing so, Jesus concludes today’s Gospel and cautions us by adding, “No servant can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.”
Imagine yourself, (let us call you David), in the following scene. You have decided to sell your house and live on a secluded island so that you can retire in peace and without the disturbances and pollution of the busy city life. For one reason or another, Jude your neighbour thinks it is a good idea and decides to follow you and your family. So, in the separate boats that you rented, you and your family filled them with all your precious belongings and headed for the island. As you were in the middle of the sea, an unexpected storm broke out; the strong winds and waves were threatening to drown you, your family and the boat men.
The boat men who knows the sea advice that the only way to survive the storm is to throw all your belongings into the sea so that the boat would be lighter and you would not be swamped by the huge waves. It pained your heart to part with all your precious possessions that you have worked all your life for them. But, as you look at your dear wife and children, you agreed with the boat men. Everyone then started throwing everything you owned into the sea. After several hours of battling with the heavy storm, it eventually calmed and you and your family finally landed on the island; exhausted.
However, you suddenly noticed that Jude, your neighbour and his family had not landed. When you asked the boat men, they said that sadly, they have all drowned because they refused to throw their material possessions into the sea. As you are saddened by the tragic news, you also realise more than ever that there are more precious things in life than your material wealth and possessions.
And as you reflected on why it was not too difficult for you to throw your precious belongings into the sea, you realised that during your lifetime, you have always put God as more important than anything else in your life. You could see that your wife and your children; your career and how you lived and work; the friends you kept were all seen as special blessings from God. In all of these you were able to put God first in your life; money while important was never the most important thing in life. You and your children were able to live as a happy family because even though there were occasional quarrels and misunderstandings, God was always important for everyone. You went for Sunday Masses as a family, and also prayed together nightly; in particular, you did much to care for the poor and needy. The good that you did for them and those who came to you for help were genuine and generous, even though it demanded much sacrifices from you and your family; in short you cared for people in need.
And as you recall your relationship with Jude, your neighbour, you began to see more clearly how he and his family had lived a very materialistic and self-centred life. They seem to have lived only for themselves; God and the Church were never important; with the slightest reason, like ballet class for their daughter, they would happily skip Sunday Masses. While it is very sad that they have all drowned, mysteriously, you now sensed that the right thing to do is to return to your former home in the city and start all over again, and not try so much as to “escape” from the materialistic world, but live within it, and battle with the storms of materialism in your daily life with Jesus rowing the boat and protecting you and everyone from drowning.
You are now more determined than ever that you are not to listen to the conflicting and confusing voices of the secular and materialistic world, but to the voice and focus your attention on Our Lord and Saviour who is “rowing” your boat and who in today’s Gospel is saying to us, “No servant can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave of God and of money.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jude the neighbour in our story unfortunately was so attached to his money and material riches and possessions that he eventually lost and destroyed himself, his family and possibly even rejected the gift of eternal life that God constantly offered him during his life. Jude refused to listen to the boatmen because his life had been blinded by the glory that his material riches gave him, and his heart hardened by the many years of living a self-centred life that cared only for themselves and no one else.
As such, when the crucial decision needed to be made, to save his own life, his family and the boatmen’s lives, his eyes continue to be blinded, his heart continued to be hardened as he hung on to the false hope that he could still save his life by clinging on to his material riches.
And so, as I conclude, my sisters and brothers in Christ, let us be reminded that if our daily living is like Jude and his family, then it would not be surprising that even as the storms of life is raging around us, even as we are about to lose our career and our family and loved ones, we would still not see the dangers of clinging on to the false hopes of our materialistic lifestyles and denying the Truth that Jesus proclaimed in today’s Gospel that “we cannot be the slave of God and of money.” We often see this happening in families where money and material matters have divided and destroyed their relationships in court cases . . . and sadly often over small in insignificant matters.
Jude and his family could have even lived a comfortable life if they had only listened to the advice of the boatmen to throw all their material possessions into the sea. But, in refusing to listen to the voice of wisdom, they lost everything that truly mattered most in life – their families and even possibly their eternal salvation.However, if we are inspired and determined to follow the path that David and his family took, then what Jesus proclaimed in today’s Gospel have to be the path of wisdom that we have to embrace for our daily living, for as Jesus proclaimed, “You cannot be the slave of God and of money.”
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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