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We are the stewards

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Gospel Commentary LK 16:1-13

 

In 1754, John Newton was a captain in the English Royal Navy who made his living in the transatlantic slave trade. One day in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, halfway to America, he had an extraordinary spiritual experience. Trading in slaves, he suddenly realized, would cost him his soul. To the utter dismay of everyone on board his ship, Newton immediately reversed course, returned to west Africa, and set every slave free. Perhaps you’ve never heard of John Newton, but you have certainly heard the song he wrote about his experience that day, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Do you want to reform your life? Repent like you mean it, and begin right where you are.

Nearly every parable of Jesus features a character who does something completely unexpected. Jesus then uses that unexpected plot twist to make his point. We have grown so familiar with Jesus’ parables that we rarely notice anything askew, but this week’s Gospel, the Parable of the Unjust Steward, contains a surprising twist that’s obvious to any reader.

A rich man employs a steward who squanders his master’s property. At best, the steward is incompetent, and at worst, he’s a thief. His master calls him to account, and tells the steward he is about to be fired. The wily steward then falsifies each debtor’s promissory note — essentially stealing from his employer — in an effort to secure his own future by ingratiating himself to his master’s debtors. Any ordinary employer would send his steward to prison for such behavior, but surprisingly, this master commends the steward for his “prudence.” Would any master ever praise a steward who gave away his property to others? As it turns out, that’s precisely what God does to us.

A steward is one who trades with someone else’s property. Have you ever stopped to realize that God is the rightful owner of everything in your life? Your talents, your health, your family, your friends, your time — and even your very life — are not your own. We are the stewards, not the owners, of God's gifts. The proof of this is that you must surrender all of them in death. Everything has been entrusted to us for the well-being of others, together with a responsibility to act on their behalf. Whenever we do so, our friendship with the Lord grows stronger. That’s the meaning of the “true wealth” the Gospel mentions (Lk 16:11). The essence of sin, by contrast, lies in the misuse of God's gifts. We act as if we were the master, rather than the steward. Just as in the parable, we will give an accounting to the master for what we’ve done with his gifts. The world tells us to use what we have for the here and now, but Jesus says the opposite. Use what you have, here and now, to build what lasts for eternity.

Like the steward in the Gospel, we must not waste a moment. St. Paul once said, “If you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on what pertains to higher realms” (Col 3:1). We expend our heart’s energy dissecting the intricacies of politics, or debating the mechanics of a quarterback’s arm. We wax eloquent about an actor’s performance in a new movie, or spend hours searching for a lower airfare, or a discount on a new car. In all areas of life, people act decisively about whatever they truly value. If the dashboard of your car suddenly flashed, “Service engine soon,” how long would you wait to act? If your bank called to inform you of fraudulent activity on your account, would you hesitate even for a minute?  We too have a stewardship that is about to come to an end. Don’t wait to change your life. Repent like you mean it. With what time we have left, may we learn to see as Christ sees, that we may do as he does.

Fr. Hudgins is pastor of St. Jude Church in Fredericksburg.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019