The Prelate’s Message, March 7
The fourth station of Great Lent is entitled the “Sunday of the Steward” after a parable that our Lord Jesus told to His Disciples. There was a rich man who had a steward, and accusations were brought to the rich man that the steward was squandering his property. The steward was called to accountability and was signaled to be fired. Knowing well himself that he could not assume any other hard work or beg, the steward immediately called all the people who were in debt to the rich man, and offered an unprecedented opportunity for them to pay their debts at reduced rates, with the hope that one day they could help him. When the rich man learned of this, instead of being furious, he praised the steward. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I tell you, make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (Lk 16:1-9 KJV).
This parable, which sounds and reflects more of a secular experience, once again leads us to contemplate upon the things yet to come. Therefore, let us seek our share of life-giving wisdom from it.
A. The teaching of Jesus Christ is centered on and is aimed toward the spiritual and eternal reality of the heavenly Kingdom. Yet the departing point to comprehend and taste it is this world with all its elements. Hence, Jesus uses parables as examples from different walks of life in order to lead us from the material to the spiritual, from the visible to the invisible, from the comprehensible to the inconceivable. Our Lord, since the beginning of His mission, declared that “the Kingdom of heaven is at the door” (Mt 4:17). In other words, as much as we look forward to the Parousia, we are part of its gradual course now in our earthly life on this planet. Jesus never hesitates to use all the means of this Creation, which in its own turn is part of the eternal plan of Almighty God.
B. The misconduct of the steward, by his own judgement, was condemnable. Unfortunately, this behavior is common in the society. Due to greed and to owing more than they possess, humans unfortunately misuse the trust toward them. In the beginning with small tricks, and later encouraged by their success, they make fatal decisions offending even themselves. The threat of losing his job does not lead the steward to despair, but rather mobilizes his ingenuity and results in an action plan that seems quite bold: He calls each debtor, and he orders the one who owes hundred jugs of olive oil to restate them as fifty. The one who owes hundred containers of wheat is ordered to change it to eighty. And all these discounts were done at the cost of his boss’s pocket. Any listener or reader of this parable definitely will guess the outcome of these outrageous transactions. Now, let us see the rich man’s reaction.
C. When the rich man becomes aware of this audacious step by his steward, very surprisingly instead of condemning his impudent decision (which would have raised more suspicion on his mishandling of the business), he praises the steward. Is the rich man appreciating an illicit gain? Yes. The reason, which might sound unreasonable yet seems to be very pragmatic, I think could be the following. No matter how the replacement of the steward was unavoidable, and his last action undoubtedly was the seal of his irresponsible decisions, yet this arrangement done by the steward was not only to his but also to the rich man’s interest. Had the rich man taken the unfaithful steward to court, it could create more unprofitable damage. Yet in this way the debts were not a total loss, but a tangible portion was secured. In spirit, this parable, even though was told two thousand years ago, is relevant to our modern marketing system. We know that at all seasons, but mostly following major holidays, we are bombarded by incredible big sales of 30 percent, 50 percent and sometimes even 70 percent. Is this a sign of bankruptcy? Not at all: it is the normal functioning of the world of business, where the available, liquid cash is more beneficial than the merchandise piled up in the unsold stock.
In the light of the business world’s principle, the parable of the steward, while perhaps not perfect, seems to have a happy ending where all the parties – the rich man, the steward, and the debtors – had more or less a common profit. The landlord was satisfied with collecting the majority of the outstanding debts which was better than to leave uncertain the fate of collection. The steward felt himself rewarded because not only did he get what he was expecting, but even more than that, he received the praise of his master. In turn, the debtors were happy for this unusual discount-gift.
D. The most surprising aspect of this parable is our Lord’s comment on the steward’s behavior. He does not only praise but even overestimates human talents over the Children of light, interpreted by Church Fathers as the angels. There is no doubt that humans cannot be compared with angels because angelic interaction is totally free from this corrupted, sinful world. What Jesus wished to emphasize, I believe, is the following. The steward’s situation was a total loss: no trust, no friendship, no positive vision for a better position. In other words, he was in despair. Yet he did not surrender himself to hopelessness, but rather took action. While he was thinking about the probable profit, his master gratified him with more than he was expecting. Does this somehow remind us the situation of the lost prodigal son who in his despair and stressful life took an action of change, which was overwhelmingly valued by his father? And according to our Lord’s message, “if earthly fathers behave in this way how much more the Heavenly Father showers His bounties upon those who ask Him” (Lk 11:13).
Our Lord’s intention when He told this parable was twofold:
- Those who are fallen and disgraced, and from a human perspective feel themselves totally in an abyss of despair, should never surrender to hopelessness, but rather as rational beings, privileged to be the Imago Dei, should depend solely upon God’s love and forgiveness, which generates only life and joy.
- From the very beginning of His mission, Jesus praised the poor, according to Saint Luke (Lk 7:23), and those who are poor in spirit, according to Saint Matthew (Mt 5:3). On a different occasion, He referred to the rich, saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eyes of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:24-27). Within this context, it is enough to say that when we use money, the so-called “unrighteous mammon,” for good purposes to heal and not wound; to build and not to destroy; to bridge relationships and not to burn; to help and not to dominate; it echoes a Truth that the Creation with all its elements is good (Gen 1:4), and even though it is ill-handled, yet because it is designed for good purpose only, it may lead us to eternal goodness.
This Sunday reminds us also of our stewardship. In different levels and capacities by the virtue of our status, rank or position, all of us are assigned by God to be stewards to take care of spouses, children, students, patients, business, employees, and Mother Nature in its entirety. Let us faithfully fulfill our mission. If due to our human weaknesses we fail, we should always look for positive outcomes, knowing well that we have a loving Father who through the intercession of His Only-begotten Son always showers through His Holy Spirit what is beneficial to us at the right time and through eternity. Let His majestic name be blessed forever. Amen.