Today’s Gospel passage for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C caught my attention because of it’s confusing meaning. It seems to praise a steward’s dishonesty in dealing with money and then say how we should win friends through dishonest wealth. This didn’t seem right to me because it appeared to go against Christ’s teachings.
Yet, just like with every faith question we have, the Catholic Church always has an answer. We just have to ask and look for it.
So I put on my detective skills, got my magnifying glass, and went to work. 😉
Here is the passage:
“Then he also said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. 2 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.’ 3 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. 4 I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ 7 Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ 8 And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.
“For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,[f] so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 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. 11 If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? 12 If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? 13 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 God and mammon.”
Confused? Well I am. Haha. So let’s try to break this down.
Understanding the context of this story goes in line with understanding the Palestinian custom with masters and their agents. This steward’s job was to rent out the master’s property and the way the steward made money was through the interest he charged for that rent. Yet, the Master caught him being dishonest with his job and was going to fire him. As a result, the steward realized that it would be wiser to be in the goodwill of others so when he was let go he would have help from people. So, he went to each of the debtors and forgave them of the interest he charged them so they only owed the amount that was the master’s. The steward was not being dishonest in letting the debtors write off less than what they owed. Instead, he was letting go of his personal profit from it. The master praised him for his actions, because it proved that the steward did not put money as his first priority and was “prudent” in changing from his former dishonest ways.
Making Friends With Dishonest Wealth:
Often, confusion over bible passages is due to poor word choice from translations. If you look up different translations of “dishonest wealth,” it is also called “unrighteous wealth” or “worldly wealth.” So in this case, dishonest wealth is referred to as money of this world. Yet, why should we make friends with money? That isn’t fully what Jesus means here. In the second portion of this Gospel, Jesus is saying that money is abused due to our sin. We use it for selfish pleasures. He is not saying that money is completely wrong. He actually wants us to use it, but use it prudently.
Our end goal in life is Heaven, yet too often we use money to create a “fake heaven” for ourselves here on earth. Jesus calls us to use our money to serve other and advance the true kingdom here on earth. He wants us to use our wealth to win souls for Christ (make friends) so that when we no longer have any wealth left (die) we will be welcomed to “eternal dwellings” (heaven).
Like the final verse says, we cannot serve both God and mammon (money/greedy pursuit of wealth). Yet, that is hard to prioritize when our world puts so much importance on making money. Technically our survival, is dependent on making an income to take care of ourselves.
But how do we use our money? Are we selfish with what we have been given?
Jesus promises to be generous with us if we are generous with others. He promises to take care of us if we take care of others. This doesn’t mean we should give everything we own away. Like He said, we still must be “prudent” with our money. But we are called to have balance with what we keep and give.
I struggle with this myself with the many expenses of a poor college student and am tempted to keep every dollar I earn, so that I can take care of myself. However, all this shows is that I don’t trust God will take care of me. I am trusting myself and my money.
A few Sundays ago, I tithed for the first time in a long time and I can’t explain the peace and joy it gave me. I felt like I was finally detaching from a burden I was hoarding that wasn’t even mine. I realized that I was thinking of my money as “my precious” like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Yet, it truly was never mine because God was the one who gave it to me.
When I finally put it in the offertory basket at Mass, I was giving what God had given me back to Him. It is God who blesses us with the job and income we have. If we truly are making God first in our life, then we should return His generosity with more generosity.
“Whoever sows generously, will also reap generously… For God loves a cheerful giver.”
(2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
Money does not have to be a sinful thing. It is all how we use it for the Kingdom of God.