Spirituality of the Readings

Be Shrewd

The readings in Sunday’s Mass seem to contradict each other. In the first one God is quite offended by the mean actions of the people. But then, check out the Gospel. A mean steward is actually rewarded for cheating his master. What is going on?

One thing at a time.

In the First Reading, God finds merchants cheating the people, buying them for silver, for just a pair of sandals, or for the refuse of the wheat they will sell. God says he “has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!”

I would not like to hear such words said to me, even if I did not know what the “pride of Jacob” was!

So God is angry. And this first reading makes perfect sense today, doesn’t it? United States commerce very often wishes to buy you and me for the cost of, say, cable TV, or a convertible, or false teeth, or prescription drugs, real-estate plans, weight reduction, automobiles, and even breath-freshening chewing gum (which uses sexual promiscuity in order to sell their gum).

Wouldn’t we be justified in saying that God hates it?

When you are doing things of any kind, do not wreck the lives of the poor.

But in the Gospel parable, things seem reversed. There the master actually approves his servant’s cheating! He comes back to find that this, his top steward, has been squandering his property. Naturally he plans to fire the man, and in this we have perfect agreement with the First Reading.

But then comes the curve ball.

The steward thinks up a plan. If I am to be fired, he says, I had better make friends with the people under me, so I will not be without home or friends. Since for the time being I am still superintendent, I will go to each of my master’s debtors and make a deal. Give me half of what you owe and I will count it on the books as fully paid.

When he learns of this arrangement, the master does not say what we would expect, “you can no longer be my steward,” as he had before. but actually compliments his steward for this plan. You have been prudent in preparing a home for yourself, he says. What changed his mind? Why is this not a “wrongdoing” just like the one in the First Reading?

Because there is a major difference.

Yes, the “Unjust Steward” of the parable is cheating his wealthy master, but he never shows disdain for the clients. Yes, he is taking care of his own future (making friends with the poor), but he gets some of their debts back for the master. And he never disregards their needs. He makes life a little easier for them, for himself and incidentally for the master. Meanwhile, the merchants from the First Reading are buying and selling the poor people themselves (“We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals”)! No wonder they are condemned.

The moral?

(1) When you are doing things of any kind, do not wreck the lives of the poor. God loves them very much and will remember your crime.

(2) Don’t forget to be shrewd when you make things better for others. Nothing good can endure unless pragmatism enters in. Make the benefits go as far as you can.

(3) Love.

John Foley, SJ


**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson