Friday of Week 31 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 16:1-8

After the three wonderful parables about God’s mercy and longing for the reconciliation of the sinner, Luke swings back again in chapter 16 with two parables and related teaching about our use of material possessions, and he puts some of the responsibility for our salvation back on ourselves.

The first is a story about a rather dishonest steward or manager. His responsibilities were to handle all the business affairs of his employer. However, he had been mishandling his employer’s funds and was about to be fired. One thinks of the prodigal son who utterly wasted the inheritance his loving father had given him.

Immediately the steward begins to think of his future. He does not have the strength to do manual labour, and to go begging would be a terrible loss of face. So he thinks of a stratagem by which he calls in all his employer’s debtors and reduces the amounts they owe.

The debts incurred were considerable. One hundred measures of olive oil was equivalent to about 800 gallons or the yield of 450 olive trees. One-hundred measures of wheat was equal to about 1,000 bushels or the yield of 100 acres. Very few farmers would have had anything like that kind of land in Jesus’ time.

By doing this favour, the steward hopes to be able to find alternative employment with one of them. Surprisingly, his employer, far from being angry, praises the farsightedness of his corrupt steward .

Some commentators question whether the steward was actually acting dishonestly. Was he actually denying his employer money which he was really owed, or was he rather writing off the ‘commission’ which he was usuriously charging, thus inflating the proper amount owed? The Mosaic law forbade taking interest on loans from fellow Jews, so one way of getting round this was to overcharge debtors. By reducing the debts to the proper level, the steward was correcting an injustice and, at the same time, making these debtors favourably disposed towards him. Whatever the interpretation, the point Jesus is making is the same: the steward acted with shrewdness and intelligence to guarantee his future.

Jesus concludes by pointing out that the worldly are far more astute in providing for their future than are those who are regarded as spiritual, the ‘children of light’. Jesus is in no way condoning the steward’s dishonest and corrupt behaviour. What he does praise is his clear-sighted preparation of his future.

The lesson for us is clear. If a man can do that for his earthly career, what about our future in the life to come? If we want to guarantee our future life with God then we, too, need to take the necessary steps. Those steps are clearly laid out in the Gospel. In general, they involve a life which is built on truth and integrity, and on love, compassion and justice with regard to the people around us. Our task is to work with God in making his will our own and in building up the Kingdom. If we do this on a daily basis, then we have nothing to worry about and our future is assured.

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