Today at Mass, we read Our Lord’s parable of the Dishonest Steward. This has been a confusing parable for me, which I spent some time thinking through and discussing this morning.
Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than the children of light.”St. Luke 16:1-8
What’s strange about this parable is that it appears to be commending a dishonest man. Obviously, that can’t be true. Then, in the last line, there seems to be a comparison of two different groups: “children of this world” vs. “children of light”.
Where is this comparison, however, in the parable?
I believe that the steward represents two different groups of people. Initially, he is employed in the service of a rich master. He is the lawful steward, responsible for administering his master’s property. In this position, he represents the “children of light”.
While in this position, he does not serve the master well. He squanders his master’s property, managing things poorly.
Then, when he realizes he’s lost his position, his position with reference to the master changes and he represents the “children of this world”. In this position, however, he is suddenly proactive, shrewd, prudent, etc. He’s in touch with the debtors, making deals, solving problems, etc.
Where was all of this effort and strategy when he was lawfully employed in the master’s service? He was careless, negligent, lazy, stupid, etc.. He had no motivation to serve his master’s interests, no desire to honor his master. Yet, when the time came to care for himself, suddenly he was found capable of all of the tasks he failed to perform before.
I believe the master’s praise is sarcastic, as if to say, “Well, look at what we have here! Suddenly you’re all prudence! Too bad you couldn’t find and of this shrewdness to do your job.” This is similar to what we say when we see people working out all kinds of complex schemes to steal, rather than work honestly. I see this in education, when parents can’t seem to understand or do anything with respect to studies, but then are wizards when the time comes to organize a family vacation. It’s too bad none of this creativity, financial resourcefulness, and multi-tasking skill isn’t available when the kids need help with studies.
Anyway, my two cents.