The Lord Jesus gives a penetrating analysis of the state of the sinner and some very sobering advice to we would-be saints in today’s Gospel. Let’s look at the Gospel in two stages: The Analysis of the Sinner and the Advice to the Saints.
I. ANALYSIS OF THE SINNER – The Lord Jesus describes a sinful steward in the opening lines of this gospel. Let’s look at the description:
A. DELUSION (of the sinner)- Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward – Notice he is called a steward not an owner. God is the owner of everything, we are but stewards. A steward must deal with the goods of another according to the will of the owner. This is our state. We may have private ownership in relation to one another. But before God we own nothing, absolutely nothing.
Part of the essence of sin is to behave as though we were the owner. We develop an arrogant attitude that what I have is really mine to do with as I please. We think, “It’s mine, I can do what I want with it…..I call the shots…..I can do as I please with my own body….” and so forth. But the fact is everything belongs to God.
Scripture affirms, The earth is the LORD’S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Ps. 24:1). Even of our bodies which we like to think of as ours, Scripture says: You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:19). And old song says, “God and God alone created all these things we call our own. From the mighty to the small, the glory in them all is God’s and God’s alone….” So the Lord defines the sinner as a steward, though the steward acts as if he were an owner.
B. DISSIPATION (of the sinner) – who was reported to him for squandering his property. The Lord here describes the essence of many of our sins: that we dissipate, we squander the gifts of God. We waste the gifts we have received and using them for sinful ends.
For example in greed we hoard the gifts he given us to help others. Instead of helping, we store them up only for ourselves. Yet all the goods of the world belong to all the people of the world and they ought to shared to the extent that we have excess.
Other examples of squandering the things of God are in gossip, lying and cursing wherein we misuse the gift of speech; in laziness wherein we misuse the gift of time; in all sin wherein we abuse and squander our freedom. This is dissipation, this is the squandering of God’s goods.
God has given us many good things, and instead of using them to build the Kingdom, we squander them and dissipate the kingdom.
C. DEATH (of the sinner) – He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ – Here the Lord teaches and reminds us that someday we will all be called to account and our stewardship will end. Elsewhere scripture reminds us So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body (2 Cor 5:9 ).
We have an appointed time to exercise our stewardship but our stewardship will end and the books will be opened. Here too Scripture reminds: And books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Rev 20:11)
While it is true that many pay little heed to the fact of judgement Scripture warns Say not, “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me? For the Lord bids his time. Of forgiveness be not over-confident, adding sin upon sin. Say not, “Great is his mercy, my many sins he will forgive.” For mercy and anger are alike with him; upon the wicked alights his wrath. Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day. For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance you will be destroyed (Sirach 5:4).
Every steward (us) will die, our stewardship will end, and we will be called to render an account. It thus follows that we ought to listen to the advice which the Lord next gives.
II. ADVICE TO THE SAINTS- After analyzing the sinner the Lord has some advice for those of us sinners who want to be saints. He gives Four principles we ought to follow:
A. Principle of INTENSITY – The text says, The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting shrewdly. For the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. –
The Lord is telling us here many of the worldly are more crafty in what matters to them than the Spiritually minded in what (supposedly) matters to them. The fact is many of us are very intense and organized when it comes to worldly matters. We spend years of preparation in college training for careers. We work hard and are dedicated to climbing the company ladder.
In worldly expertise many are dedicated to developing skills, and becoming incredibly knowledgeable. In earning money and holding a job many display great discipline, getting up early to go to work, working late and hard to please the boss.
But when it comes to faith many of the same people display a third grade knowledge of things spiritual and show little interest in advancing in the faith or of praying. They will please the boss, please man, but not God. Parents will fight for scholarships for their children to get into the best schools. Students will compete for scholarships. But when it comes to saving truth, the pews are empty, Sunday School is badly attended.
To all this, the Lord says to us here that the spiritually minded ought to show the same intensity, organization, dedication and craftiness that the worldly show in their pursuits. We ought to be zealous for the truth, for prayer, for opportunities to sharpen our spiritual skills and increase our holiness. We ought to be as zealous to be rich in grace as we are to be rich in money. So the first principle the Lord gives us is intensity.
B. Principle of INVESTMENT – I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. –
As to what the Lord means by “dishonest wealth”, read here: What does the Lord mean by “Unrighteous Mammon”
The Lord tells of how the dishonest steward made use of the money at his disposal to make friends who would help him in the next stage of his life. How about us? Are we willing to use our money and resources to bless others, especially the poor, who can bless us in the next stage of our life?
On the day of your judgment will the poor and needy be able to speak up on your behalf? Will they be among the angels and saints who welcome you to eternal dwellings? I don’t know about you, but I am going to want the poor to pray and speak to God on my behalf the Day I am judged. Scripture says that the Lord hears the cry of the poor and needy.
In this world the poor need us, but in the next world we are going to need them. In this world those with money and power get heard, in the Kingdom it is the poor and suffering who get heard. It is a wise investment to bless the poor and needy.
In effect the Lord Jesus tells us to be wise in our use of worldly wealth. Just as the world tells us to take our wealth and invest it wisely so that it will reap future rewards, so the Lord says the same thing. He says, “Use your money wisely. Invest it well.” How? By storing it up it up in up in heaven. How do we do that? By giving it away! Then it will really be yours.
You can’t take it with you but you can send it on ahead. Scripture elaborates this elsewhere: Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Tim 6:17) Notice how the passage says that through their generosity here the rich lay up treasure in heaven.
This is the scriptural principle and the great paradox in the Kingdom of God: that we keep something eternally by giving it away. We save our find our life by losing it, we keep out treasure and store it in heaven by giving it away.
So invest my friends, invest wisely! Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matt 6:20)
C. Principle of INCREASE – 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?
What is the “small matter” of which the Lord talks and in which we can prove trustworthy? The small matter is money. We make money the most important thing in life. But Spiritual matters are more important.
Scripture attests to this clearly: The Book of 1st Peter says our faith is more precious than fire-tried gold. The Book of Psalms (19:10) says The words of the Lord are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
So God says let’s see how you are in the small but significant matter of money, then I’ll see if you are able to able to handle bigger blessings. Do you think you can handle heaven and the spiritual blessings of holiness? Well let’s see, if you are trustworthy with worldly wealth, God will give you true wealth. If you’re trustworthy is what belongs to God, he’ll give one day what is yours.
You want more even here? Use well what you’ve already received. Then God will know he can trust you with more. You want increase? A gospel song says: You must faithful over a few things to be ruler over many things. Be faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life.
D. Principle of INDIVISIBILITY – No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.
Pay attention. To serve, means to obey. Most people obey money, affluence and worship the American standard of living before they obey God. They meet their world obligations first and then give God what is left over.
But we are called to obey God alone, to have an undivided heart. The wording here is strong You CANNOT obey the world (money) and think you’re also going to obey God. You have to choose what will be more important.
Now don’t tell me we don’t need a lot of grace and mercy here! Money and the lure of the world is very powerful. It’s to get on our knees and pray for a miracle to prefer God to the world.
This song says, You must faithful in a few things to be ruler over many things. Be faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life…. The sung builds to wonderful refrain: Well done good and faithful servant, Well done!
21 Replies to “On Being Faithful in a few things before being ruler over many things. – A Sermon for the 25th Sunday of the Year.”
I was looking for commentary on this parable today and your post/homily unpacks it very well.
I hope people read it slowly and more than once. There’s a lot here to learn from.
The sermon which I heard today started by saying that this is just about the strangest parable Jesus ever told. Here we have Jesus praising a crook. Jesus does not condemn the crook for his dishonest handling of his master’s property but actually commends his further dishonesty in swindling his master out of yet more of what should be rightfully his. Actually the sermon then went on to point out, as you have done, that all we have comes from our master….who is God Himself, and that we should be as skilled in our handling of what we have been given, as this crook was in looking out for himself in this world of materialism. The parable is about two different worlds and two different mindsets with two different purposes in mind.
A very appropriate reading for today. I will be attending my brother-in-law’s visitation who was under 30, and died suddenly. It is very tragic. He was very worldly and I am saddened by his death. I wish that I had evangelized him more. I am stunned by my Catholic family who tells me he is in heaven. I personally am praying for purgatory because I fear the worst. This is one of those teachings that is difficult to deal with in real life. How do I tell my children that someone they love dearly may not be with God? I want them to pray for his soul as I am doing, so that he has a chance of prayers helping him through purgatory. Then I wonder how many souls have no one to pray for them because the world believes in this happy lie that all will go to heaven. I appreciate your ministry spreading the truth, but I don’t know how to apply it in my life in a healthy way. I can not look at his mother or his siblings and say that he might not be in heaven. I think they will hate me for it. Then that is what the world does, isn’t it. It hates the truth, and it avoids anything that rebukes the happy lie. I suppose the obvious answer to that is prayer. I need to prayerfully ask for God’s help in dealing with my family–to be sensitive to their loss, but not accept the easy lies that we tell ourselves to overcome our guilt and to ease our loss.
I am not an expert but have certainly been given the impression that at death there are only two options – Heaven or Hell. If one dies in a state of grace – it is Heaven but may (for most of us who are not saints) necessitate a cleansing in purgatory. If we die in a state of unrepentant sin, the only path is to Hell. That being said, what none of us may know is whether at the very last moment of life, your nephew accepted Christ. As a psychologist I worked with a client whose spouse was on the verge of death. The client knew the spouse to be an atheist and spent much time in prayer for a conversion despite the spouse suffering from a level of dementia. Over a number of years (remember, this person was on the verge of death from the beginning) this spouse had many periods of lucidity and gradually agreed to be prayed for – and ultimately requested having a picture of Jesus over the head of the bed – before stating on a number of occasions – a belief in Christ and an acceptance of baptism. The last part of this conversion occurred during the last three years of life when the spouse of my client was in hospice. Hospice is only offered when a person is expected to live a few days or weeks at best. What we can never know is what was happening in this person’s heart and mind during those years (eleven in all) of being bedridden, suffering from dementia and experiencing untold pain. To conclude, we never know what God is doing during those last seconds of death – a period of time that seems so short to us – but is an eternity to a creator who exists outside of the time-space continuum. So teach your children that the nephew’s life, like many of our lives, deserves damnation but we pray for his soul because we never know if forgiveness was sought in a way we can never know. As a recent convert, I believe one of my callings is to pray for all the devout Protestant relatives who have passed on without knowing the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. God bless.
Thank you for responding. I was comforted by the prayers at mass yesterday when they spoke of God’s mercy. My brother-in-law was raised Catholic, so I am hopeful that in his last moments, he was able to ask for God’s mercy.
Don’t tell them; change the subject and pray. Ask his patron saint for help.
We did very well yesterday until we drove home. Then, they had questions. I did not discuss their uncle specifically, but we talked about heaven and hell and purgatory. I don’t want to lose an opportunity to counteract the message that the world sends. Thank you.
Another interpretation I’ve read is that in Jesus’s time, servants tasked with making loans or collecting money commonly tacked on a “commission” that they kept for themselves (that’s one reason everyone hated the tax collectors – Luke 3:12-13). The servant in the parable isn’t further swindling his master in reducing the debtors’ notes – he’s cutting out his own extortionate fee. This willingness to own up to and forgo his cheating is what ingratiates him to the debtors. But, like you said, this is about the strangest parable Jesus ever told. YMMV. 🙂
I want to share some thoughts about the phrase “dishonest wealth”. There was a man possessed by demons named “legion”.–thereby suggesting Rome as a symbol of the devil or of demonic influence. Jesus asked whose face is on a Roman coin. The answer is Caesar. Caesar called himself god and demanded worship as such. So, as a pagan god Caesar is a symbol of, and even a representative of, the devil. Jesus calls Satan “a liar and a murderer”. Just as Satan is a liar, the coin with the representative of the devil on it is dishonest. I think Jesus is telling us that money has the effect of causing us to lie to ourselves about what we want. Also, I want to point out that in a way people are like money in that we have impressed on ourselves the image and likeness of the true king, God almighty.–I learned that from Dr. Tim Gray. So, when Jesus talks about money, we should also be on the lookout for when he is talking about people.
This is one of the more difficult Scripture passage for me to grasp, let alone understand. Your post has really given me a lot to ponder and refer to as I go through this reading. As Diane said, “… To read slowly and more than once”. Thank you, Monsignor!
This story has always confused me. Thank you for explaining what it means …
God bless you.
This is very helpful. I also like the post on unrighteous mammoth. Could you clarify the first principle of intensity. Do we also need to relax and simply enjoy God’s goodness? Thanks and God bless.
I still have trouble with this parable. The parable is silent as to whether the report of the steward was true or not.
A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.
He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship,
because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,
now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
If the report of the steward wasn’t true and the steward hadn’t squandered, does this change the meaning of the parable? Do we have to assume the steward squandered or was wasteful prior to the report? We only get an account of the stewards actions once his position of stewardship was taken away.
Thank you, as always, for your post. I was wondering if you know of any resource, or have insight of your own that you wouldn’t mind posting, that would be good insight for Catholics on wealth. I always wonder what is the appropriate balance between making sure I have enough saved for a rainy day vs giving more to the poor, living in a community in which I feel safe with my wife and kids vs living in the city, how much is too much money to spend on a vacation, etc. I know that these answers are going to differ slightly for everyone, but is there a good guide for forming one’s conscience that you know of? I don’t want to have too much saved up in the barn, but I also don’t want to be presumptive that God is securing me with me taking anything financial into account. I have difficultly with the golden mean. Thanks!
I would appreciate some guidance in this area, too.
Hi Mary and Dave, my wife and I are struggling with this discernment now, too. An excellent starting point is some of Monseignor Pope’s posts about tithing and wealth. You can find them on this site if you search for “tithe”, “stewardship”, or some such words. “Money” might return too many hits that aren’t really related. I also picked up a book by Father Thomas Dubay from the ’80s called “Happy Are You Poor”. It’s a really eye-opening read, and he will give you much to help you discern your calling. There are no specifics, but you’ll see that he tells you not to expect specifics. It will be a spiritual discernment process for each person/family. He does give great principles for reflection in the book, and a nice Examen at the end. You can get it at Ignatius Press, or your local Catholic bookstore. Take care, and God bless fellow-journeymen!
Thank you Msgr: This gospel is SO confusing and you have, as you do with so many other readings, made it so easy to understand. Thank you—-
Thank you Msgr
I am also a new convert to Catholicism, but do prepare for the Two 1st readings and The Gospel readings for each Sunday normally a day before and an hour before Mass
I read this Gospel several times and could not understand it, during Mass the Priest explanation was thorough but this morning I reread the Gospel again and was still confused – then I came across your explanation and things have fallen into place. I PLAN TO SHARE YOUR EXPLANATION WITH MY FELLOW PARISHIONERS
The comments from persons who have sent replies are also of a great help as some include explanations that further help to make sense of this Gospel
My feelings are that not enough time is given by our Catholic Clergy in Africa on the important topics such Heaven and Hell
This parable can also be seen as part of Saint Luke’s reporting the ‘unpacking’ of the line from the Our Father:
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.
Great reflection, Msgr!
I have an interpretation of this parable that I’ve based my spirituality on:
Starting from the premise that debt represents sin, I think it could mean that the steward prays for fellow-sinners and uses the intercession of the saints, and somehow this is more efficacious than praying for just ourselves. Praying through the saints means we can use their merits and make up for our own lack, essentially borrowing the treasury of the church. This is dishonest in the sense of using a loophole (or hack) to pray our way to salvation.
I apply this view of the parable to my spiritual life in that I have a personal prayer ministry where I pray people’s intentions (that I come across in person or for celebrities or people online) and holy souls in purgatory. I pray every intention on a list that I print and update monthly, I pray them after Sunday mass at the minimum. I receive sacraments as much as I can and pray novenas and the Pope’s monthly intention and saints of the day thru Magnificat and a handful of patron saints that I pick online every year plus whoever’s daily feast day, and try to use indulgences (such as praying Apostles Creed in churches) and special seasonal devotions and 5 First Saturdays and Sacred Heart etc, plus rosaries. Basically I don’t let an idea go to waste, especially if it’s easy I will try it.
I’m not saying this to brag (you can say that just because I’m parked in a garage doesn’t make me a car) but offer this in the hopes that someone reading might be inspired to try something like this. If I were Protestant I wouldn’t hesitate to do prayer chains as well, I sometimes post prayer intentions. I do all this in the hopes that when I need the graces in this life I will be helped (if I find myself in the position of the dishonest steward), trusting the promises (St Teresa?) that no soul goes to Heaven without bringing others with them.
Incredibly easy because it’s an acquired habit that hopefully adds up over time and will say that it’s increased my exposure to Catholicism many longer than the 7 years I’ve been Catholic.
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