Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Man is wisest when he turns to God

Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

“So clever! So clever” so says the astute Fr Dominic. He is of course referring to how some people (priests included) are able to wrangle themselves out of work commitments by the flimsiest of excuses. What augments their “cleverness” is that they often push the buck to others, and poor Fr Dominic often ends up “covering” for them, which makes him lament his own condition, “So stupid! So stupid!”

The “cleverness” of the steward in today’s parable seems apparent and yet for us Christians, seem utterly disturbing and even scandalising. The steward who was called to account for having wasted his rich landlord’s property chooses fraud as the “clever” way out. He finds a way to extricate himself at the last minute from the mess – his clever and dubious calculations consist in ensuring that, when he loses his position, he will find refuge with those whom he had helped, those whose debts he had written off. We can imagine him congratulating himself, “So clever! So clever! I’m so clever!” Far from being inspiring, the behaviour of the steward may actually invoke disgust in many of us. But instead of cautioning His disciples to stay away from such unscrupulous behaviour, our Lord does the shocking and unthinkable; He commends the steward and offers him as a model for discipleship!

On the surface it looks like the Lord is extoling the dishonesty of the steward. Yet when we hear what follows we recognise that He is not using the dishonest servant to give the disciples an example to follow regarding dishonest wealth; rather, He is making a comparison and calling to greater commitment to discipleship.

He uses the parable and the character of the dishonest servant to demonstrate the great extent someone will go to, so that they may preserve their status or wealth or position. The dishonest servant goes to great effort, albeit dishonest and corrupt; to cover up his duplicity and greed, and thereby maintaining his job and ill-gained wealth. The dishonest servant, when he learns of his master’s intention, contemplates his situation, makes a plan then immediately acts to complete it. All this, just to maintain something that is not only ill gained but is fleeting and temporary. The point is, “bad” people are often “clever” people. Their cleverness helps them to see a goal and to go after it. Yet they are foiled because they are looking for something which is a pale imitation of the real good. Being clever isn’t clever enough if it brings us nowhere closer to our ultimate goal – eternal life and heaven.

Jesus uses the parable to have His disciples — that includes us — to reflect on the efforts we make not so much with wealth, position or status but the things that really matter in life. Survival was the driving force behind the servant’s life. For us, attaining salvation should be our primary motivation in every action, every decision, every planning and every enterprise of ours.

Being a good Christian does not mean that you have to be a bad manager, a bad worker, a poor student, or someone who “sucks” at managing your personal and worldly affairs. What Christians should learn from this dishonest steward is that their actions and decisions must be intentional and purposeful. Every action, deed, decision and word, should ultimately be geared towards winning a place in the “tents of eternity.”

The last four statements our Lord makes about money insist on trustworthiness in money matters even in the Church, for money entrusted to the Church for good purposes must be administered conscientiously. So it is not a case of 'God is good, money is bad'; in fact, not even of 'money is good, but God is better'. Rather, money is good, and God is the source of that goodness, the meaning and perfection of all goodness. That is why canon law stipulates that the temporal goods of the Church are to be used especially for the following in descending order: “the regulation of divine worship, the provision of fitting support for the clergy and other ministers, and the carrying out of works of the sacred apostolate and of charity, especially for the needy.”  

Yet money is tainted. Not in itself, but because of what we human beings have made of our world. We have made a world in which people can so easily become enslaved to money - to greed. Those who have enslaved themselves to money have thereby failed to put it to the good work for which it is intended, and instead drawn others into that terrible slavery. Even ministers of the Church have not been spared and thus today’s readings call us to practice good stewardship of the temporal goods of the Church. Ultimately, our Lord is giving us a powerful reminder: God and money cannot share dominion – where one is king, the other must become the subject. If God is king, then our material goods and possessions, money, ambition, cannot rule us. “No man can serve two masters……You cannot be slave both of God and money”. The Beatles, though hardly exemplary Christians, understood the wisdom of this when they sang, “I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me love.”

To be “clever” is to be astute, and to be “astute” is to have foresight. Only fools do not see what’s coming and fail to plan and prepare for the eventuality of disaster. Foresight is the mark of wise discipleship. As the steward was forewarned that his service was about to be terminated, so are we forewarned that our death could come at any moment. A fool would think that “tomorrow” is guaranteed, he is deluded into thinking that he can live forever and so continues to waste every opportunity accorded to him to make amends of his life in order to avert the doom that comes with the Final Judgment. A fool aspires and plans for a more secure future, a better job, and more fulfilling relationships, yet he forgets that he can lose all these things in an instance. We should, therefore, wisely make decisions and plan not just for a better and more comfortable earthly life, but for the heavenly life which we hope for.

In the case of the crafty steward in the parable, he was able to come to his senses before the end. This too is a lesson that we Christians and others can and should learn. We may have started on a wrong footing, just like the shrewd and crafty steward, but this need not be how our story ends. Repentance can help us rewrite the end of the story, all our stories. The road to redemption is always open for passage before we arrive at the end of our journey. Once, we’ve come to the “dead end” of our lives, there will be no more chances to repent, no more openings to change direction, no further opportunities to make a U-Turn. But until then, God, in His Mercy, offers us countless opportunities to make amends and change the course of our lives – to choose the road that leads to salvation instead of perdition. The most intelligent thing an intelligent human being can do is to turn to God, not away from Him. Wise men still seek Him, wiser men find Him, and the wisest come to worship Him.

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