May 19, 2019

A Coin has Two Sides

Rembrandt's "Parable of the Rich Man"

The Gospel passage (Luke 16:8) for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time contains a line that says, “And the master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently.”

I find that statement to be rather remarkable. Because the steward in this Gospel text, the one that this line is referring to, was caught cheating. There seems to be no doubt about his guilt; the steward doesn’t deny it; and he doesn’t even defend himself.

He is ordered to turn in the records of all his business transactions; and he is fired. This steward is now faced with some pretty bleak prospects. It will be very difficult for him to find employment after being caught committing grand larceny; he’s too old for manual labor; and he’s too proud to beg. But he’s no fool. In fact, he’s quite clever. He shrewdly places his master’s creditors under obligation to him by lowering their debt to his master.

There isn’t much to admire here. The man is a thief. He was fired for lining his own pockets. And now he steals from his master again by reducing the debt of his master’s creditors. The amount of the debt that he wrote off rightly belonged to his master. And yet there is something about this man that Jesus apparently wants His disciples to admire! His one, and apparently his only one, redeeming quality is that he acted with shrewd foresight.

Every single person on the face of this earth has possessions. Some have very little by earthly standards, and some are blessed with abundance. But when it comes to our dealing with earthly possessions, there is one fact of life that we must never forget. God is the creator of all things. Everything on this earth comes from our Creator God and, consequently, everything belongs to Him. Absolutely nothing is ours. Therefore, ownership is a myth.

The gifts or treasures that we claim to possess, in reality, belong to the Master. We, therefore, are simply stewards of whatever it is that has been entrusted to us. And we are to manage it for Him. That, in a nutshell, is our job description.

This parable is about the Kingdom of God, as are all of Jesus’ parables. This story, and the comments of Jesus that follow, express the ultimate economic realities. We traditionally look to the Bible as a resource for spiritual direction. But the Bible also contains a great deal of material on economics. A large part of the Old Testament is devoted to the topic, and Jesus had a lot to say on the subject.

Think of the economics of God’s Kingdom as if it were a coin. A coin has two sides, but these two sides make up the one coin. So too with the Kingdom of God!  One area of concern is spiritual and the other is material. But both spiritual and material concerns must be seen as important in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.

Many people feel that salvation is all about our soul. That this ultimately is what is most important. They feel that stewardship is about what you do with what you have, and that how we handle our “possessions” is secondary, or possibly even arbitrary. But Jesus says that line of thinking is pure foolishness when he said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

The salvation of our soul and our stewardship go hand in hand. Salvation and stewardship cannot be separated. Stewardship demands that we acknowledge the Lordship of God over all things. Jesus insists that it is imperative that we learn this lesson.

The Bible tells us that, “The first requirement of all stewards is that they be proven trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 4:2) The steward in our Gospel text was a dishonest thief. So why would Jesus conclude this parable by saying that the master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently? That just doesn’t sound logical. Why would Jesus do that? Jesus answers that question in the second half of this Gospel text.

First, Jesus said that His disciples need to be as effective and resourceful in working for the Kingdom as nonbelievers are in working for their earthly possessions.

Secondly, Jesus said that His disciples are to “make friends” with their earthly resources. In other words, we may “own” possessions, but we must not allow ourselves to be possessed by them. All things of this earth are temporary. One of the fundamental laws of physics states that, over time, everything will fade away and perish. Nothing lasts forever! Jesus said we are to be generous with what has been entrusted to us temporarily so that, “When it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9) This statement definitely suggests that our eternal destiny is strongly tied to how we manage our earthly “possessions.”

Jesus again emphasized the importance of our stewardship when He said, “If you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth who will trust you with true wealth?” The New Living Bible translates that statement this way, “If you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?”

And lastly Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters. – You cannot give yourself to God and money.” (Luke 16:16) Ultimately we need to recognize that God is Lord of all. And we are simply His stewards, managing for Him whatever it is that has been entrusted to us.

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Written by
Deacon Donald Cox

REVEREND MR. DONALD COX is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit. On June 9, 1979, Deacon Don was ordained to the diaconate by His Eminence John Cardinal Dearden, an important American Father of the Second Vatican Council. He is currently assigned to St. Cornelius parish in Dryden, Michigan. Married and the father of three children and grandfather to four children, Deacon Don was born and raised in Detroit, and educated at St. Brigid Elementary School, Mackenzie High School, and Lawrence Technological University. His theological training was taken at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

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Written by Deacon Donald Cox