Date: Sunday, September 22, 2019
Perhaps you have made a similar observation or comment. When someone is arrested for wrongdoing that you know had everything going for her/him – ability, opportunity, education, good family, motivation and incentive to make a good living – but the person makes a choice to rip others off! We shake our heads. The person could have chosen a different path.
Our Gospel today, the parable of a rich man and his steward, is unsettling. We are a bit shocked to hear Jesus tell a story about a dishonest steward who is praised by his master for his devious behavior before he is dismissed. Jesus is not praising dishonesty but making a point that the crafty steward realizes his precarious circumstance and makes a decisive move regarding his future. Jesus is making an appeal to his listeners that they too must make a commitment regarding the Kingdom of God.
Remember it is a story. We can imagine the rich man and landowner is Robert Crawley, the 7th Earl of Grantham, the master of Downton Abbey! The Lord runs the estate, but he must entrust management to others. Much of the manual labor is done by people in the village who rely on the Abbey for a living. We can imagine Robert Crawley finding something amiss and telling the steward that he will be dismissed. The steward realizing his predicament cuts a deal with local folk tending the fields, orchards and flocks. He figures: “When I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.” When Lord Grantham learns of the arrangement, in a proper British way, he gives a backhanded compliment to the steward. The Earl may be conscious that the steward, despite padding his own pocket, has left the Abbey better off.
Jesus is making a point with his disciples. If the worldly-wise steward made a decisive move to ensure some benefit for his own future, material gain, shouldn’t we be willing to give more energy and effort into embracing the Gospel of God’s salvation and mercy and in seeking what is truly precious. You can’t serve both God and mammon. Amos, a Jewish prophet in Israel, the Northern Kingdom, during a time of affluence, speaks out against “those who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.” Amos speaking for God ends with a sobering indictment: “Never will I forget a thing they have done.” The Bible warns us that unbridled pursuit and acquisition of wealth is the root of evil. The words of Jesus resonate in our capitalistic and democratic society. What do we accomplish if we gain the whole world and lose our soul?