The Gospel text is rather puzzling (Luke 16:1-13). It is about the dishonest steward. He faces dismissal and marks down the debts owed to his master by various of his master’s debtors. He does this in order that once he is fired these men would be obligated to help him. When the master finds out about his actions, the master unexpectedly praises the steward for his dishonesty.
By telling this parable, we might be left with the idea that Jesus too is condoning and excusing the actions of this dishonest steward. But we know that this cannot be; Jesus would never approve of dishonesty or double-dealing. Actually, when we take a closer look at the text, we see that Jesus draws a conclusion from the story.
Jesus says: “The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd and smart. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd and smarter in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light.” (v.8) By this we understand that Jesus is contrasting the actions of the children of this world (the “pagans”), with those of the children of light who are obviously the Christians. Jesus does not want us to be like the pagans but he wants us to be just as shrewd and smart as they are; but in our case he wants us to be shrewd and smart in relation to those things which will ensure that we reach heaven, in relation to those things that make us friends of Jesus.
As we have so often noted, Jesus wants us to acquire these virtues of love of God and love of neighbor because it is our practice of the virtues that will enable us to gain entry into his Kingdom, that will enable us to be near to God one day. So, what we need to do is to put our whole energy into acquiring these virtues that bring us closer to God, closer to Jesus. Just as the pagans put their whole energy into realizing their values: sometimes material success, sometimes fame or status, or just a very comfortable life.
Luke follows up this parable with a few sayings of Jesus - the topic of this chapter is the relationship between the Christian and the material world. The first of these sayings is this: “Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.” (v.9) Here it is clear: Jesus is speaking about the poor. He is telling us to use our money not to find worldly advantage but rather spiritual advantage. We know that one of the essential beliefs of the Gospel is that the poor have a privileged place in his Kingdom; so, therefore, using our money to help them will have the effect of enabling us to enter the Kingdom more easily.
Every Christian should be sensitive to the needs of the poor. Of course, it is very difficult to know who the real poor are. What Jesus is telling us is that we need to make a decisive choice in life. We need to choose between the world and the spirit. Yes, have material things! seek success in work! live a comfortable life! But be cautious of these things: understand well that they are not an end in themselves. Realize that the things of the spirit need to be given priority. Make more room for prayer; attend to the needs of the poor; do your best to life an honorable life; put more energy into acquiring the virtues than you put into increasing your income. This is how to live the Christian life, a life as a friend of Jesus.
As Jesus says:”You cannot be the slave of two masters.” So, choose your master. Make your choice and stick to it.