And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently…I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:8-9)
Any western person of integrity must be shocked by this preposterous suggestion given us by Jesus himself. Is Jesus encouraging theft, embezzlement, cheating? Assurance that Jesus is not eliminating the commandment “thou shall not steal,” but is rather stressing the ability to act quickly, resolutely, proactively, with shrewdness and prudence in time of severe crisis, becomes evident if we remember that in the Orient human interactions are played out on the axis of honor-dishonor. What the rich man praises in his steward is not his deception and dishonesty but his quick way of thinking and swift, decisive way of making decisions.
While what concerns us much as westerners is the obvious lack of integrity in the wily steward, what was important to Jesus and his first audience is to make us appreciate the uncanny ability of this shrewd man to overturn a dire situation into a win-win-win outcome for all parties. Yes, there is the partial loss of revenue to his master caused by his deliberate irregularity of reducing considerably the debt of two customers, but the outcome is a substantial increase in honor for his master who is now seen by everyone in town as a generous man and one with whom many more people are willing to do business in time of need.
Jesus is teaching us how we can secure for ourselves a future into “eternal dwellings.” And what are these “eternal dwellings” if not heaven, if not eternal life? He does so by revealing the weak, soft spot in the mercy-filled heart of the Father so that, through “irregularities” we might be welcomed into heaven in spite of having mismanaged what he entrusted to us; and well beyond what would be due to us in justice. Even if we were to be livid for injustices done to us, let us never invoke justice from our God: that would be the most foolish, most regrettable decision we could make. The only way opened before us to make it into the eternal dwellings is by resorting quickly and resolutely to “irregularities” that result in great honor to the Father’s mercy-filled heart.
That honor to the Father must spring from our contrite heart as well as from the hearts of all those who, like ourselves, realize that their mismanagement (read sins) has taken away from us any claim, any possible merit, any leverage in our relationship with God. Today, with heartfelt humility and well-grounded in realism, we acknowledge that with this strange parable Jesus is teaching us the core of the good news: “Mine and your Father, is a most generous God and, all of you, my brothers and sisters, should capitalize as much as you can on this information I am giving you.”
Then, as a way of explaining what he just said, Jesus adds: “Awareness of people around you is the key to our Father’s heart. Your salvation passes through those who are around you. Be prudent like that wily steward. Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, with … irregularities.”
As people of faith, we are deep into the Year of Mercy. Let our minds and hearts be focused on bringing honor to the mercy-filled heart of our heavenly Father. For over twenty centuries our Church has shown that, since she cannot “dig” or “beg” or do anything else demeaning, she has been always, resolutely, about the business of writing off, of forgiving, of showing mercy, of understanding, of opening new doors, of condoning.
The same has to be true of all of us. Our stewardship is a big mess. In our frailty, we were, we are, and we will be always implicated in shady deals, in mistakes, blunders towards God and towards each other.
Well, this parable teaches us to commit other “irregularities,” i.e. irregularities that God the Father can welcome and praise in us. Here are some that come from a simple expansion of a line from the “Our Father:”Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.“
- To minimize our neighbor’s faults, offenses, mistakes.
- To ignore, over time, as many of their defects as we can.
- To erase from our minds and hearts their offenses directed at us.
- To turn a blind eye to unfair ways used in dealing with us and to reason in terms not of rights and justice but in terms of love and forgiveness.
These are samples of the “irregularities” for which God would praise us. In time of trouble and sudden crises, our natural tendency might be to curl up in our niche and sulk at the brink of helplessness and despair.
But that attitude won’t cut it for us; not in this world of ours, for sure. We should rather be magnanimous, open-minded, forgiving, generous and good to anyone. We should never think that we are isolated and all alone. We ought to make friends by extending to them the new brand of irregularities that Jesus suggests. After all, since our stewardship books are filled with old, self-serving irregularities (old sins) that Jesus wrote off in his blood, we should act quickly and discover those lifesavers that are our brothers and sisters around us.
Perhaps we need a little prodding a little convincing because it all looks so strange to us. God loves the irregularities that are not exclusively self-serving but go in our neighbor’s favor.
While he is truly full of gentleness and compassion, he is also tying the forgiveness that he will extend to us to our willingness to apply the irregularities of forgiveness, understanding and kindness to others as they deal with us…There is no other way to be welcomed into his eternal dwellings.