Lectio Divina: 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
The parable of the unfaithful steward
Fidelity to God as the only Lord
1. Opening prayer
Lord, my Father, today I bring before You my weakness, my shame, my distance from You; I no longer hide my dishonesty and infidelity, because You know and see everything, in depth, with the eyes of Your love and compassion.
I ask You, good Doctor, pour on my wound the balm of Your Word, of Your voice which speaks to me, calls me and teaches me. Do not take away Your gift, who is the Holy Spirit: allow Him to breathe on me, as a breath of life, from the four winds; that He envelops me as a tongue of fire and inundates me as water of salvation; send Him to me from Your holy Heaven, as the dove of truth, to announce, today also, that You are and that You wait for me, that You take me with You, after all, as on the first day, when You shaped me and created and called me.
a) To insert the passage in its context:
This evangelical pericope belongs to the great section of the narration of Luke which includes the long journey of Jesus towards Jerusalem; it opens in Lk 9:51 to end in Lk 19:27. This section, in turn, is subdivided into three parts, as three stages in the journey of Jesus, each one of which is introduced by an annotation almost like a repetition: “Jesus resolutely turned His face towards Jerusalem” (9:51); “Through towns and villages He went teaching, making His way to Jerusalem” (13:22); “…on the way to Jerusalem He was traveling in the borderlands of Samaria and Galilee” (17:11); to reach the conclusion in 19:28: “When He had said this He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem”, when Jesus enters the city.
We find ourselves in the second part, from Lk 13:22 to 17:10 which includes diverse teachings, which Jesus offers to His interlocutors: the crowds, the Pharisees, the scribes, and the disciples. In this unity, Jesus enters into dialogue with His disciples and offers them a parable to indicate which is the correct use of the goods of this world and how our own life should be wisely administered, inserted in a filial relation with God. Then follow three “sayings” or secondary applications of the same parable in diverse situations, which help the disciples to make space for the new life in the Spirit, which the Father offers them.
b) To help in the reading of the passage:
vv. 1-8: Jesus tells the parable of the wise and shrewd steward: a man, accused of his excessive greed, which has become unbearable, who finds himself in a decisive and difficult moment in his life, but who succeeds in using all his human resources to turn to good his clamorous failure. Just like this son of the world has known how to discern his own interests, so also the children of light have to learn to discern the will of love and the gift of their Father, to live like Him.
v. 9: Jesus makes us understand that also dishonest and unjust richness, which is that of this world, if used for the good, as a gift, leads to salvation.
vv. 10-12: Jesus explains that the goods of this world are not to be demonized, but rather are to be understood for the value which they have. They are said to be “minimum”, they are “the little” of our life, but we are called to administer them faithfully and attentively, because they are a means to enter into communion with the brothers and sisters and therefore, with the Father.
v. 13: Jesus offers a fundamental teaching: there is only one and unique end in our life and this is God, the Lord. To seek to serve any other reality means to become slaves, to bind ourselves to deceit and to die even now.
c) The text:
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 the steward said, 'And you, how much do you owe?' He replied, 'One hundred kors of wheat.' The steward 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 are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon."
3. A moment of prayerful silence
I accept the silence of this moment, of this sacred time of encounter with Him. I who am poor, without money, without possessions, without house and without my own strength, because nothing comes from me, but everything comes from Him. It is His. I allow myself to be taken in by His richness of compassion and of mercy.
4. Some Questions
a) Like any Christian I am also an “administrator” of the Lord, the rich man of our existence, the only one who possesses goods and riches. What is it that regulates my thoughts daily and, consequently, my daily choices, my actions, my relations?
b) Life, goods, the gifts which my Father has given me, these infinite riches, which are worth more than any other thing in the world, am I wasting them, am I throwing them away like pearls to the pigs?
c) The unfaithful steward, but wise and shrewd, suddenly changes his life, changes relations, calculations, thoughts. Today is a new day. It is the beginning of a new life, regulated according to the logic of remission, of pardon, of distribution: do I know that true wisdom is hidden in mercy?
d) “Either you will love one or will love the other…” Whose servant do I want to be? In whose house do I want to live? Together with whom do I want to live my life?
5. A key for reading
* “Who is the steward of the Lord?
Luke, in the parable, uses the term “administrator or steward” or “administration” seven times, and thus it becomes the key word of the passage and of the message that the Lord wants to give me. Then, I try to look in scripture for some traces, or a light which will help me to understand better and to verify the administration that the Lord has entrusted to me in my life.
This reality is repeated in the Old Testament several times , especially referring to the royal richness or to the richness of the city or of the empires: in the Book of Chronicles, for example, it is spoken about the administrators of King David (1 Chr 27:31; 28:1) and the meeting of administrators of the kings and the princes also in the Book of Esther (3:9), Daniel (2:49; 6:4) and Tobit (1:22). It is a totally worldly administration, linked to possessions, to money, to wealth, to power; therefore, bound to a negative reality, such as accumulation, usurpation, violence. It is, in one word, an administration which ends, which is short-lived and deceitful, no matter if it is recognized that this is also, in a certain way, necessary for the good functioning of society. The negative aspects, or the positive, come from their use and not from the objects themselves.
The New Testament, on the other hand, immediately introduces me into a diverse dimension, higher, because it concerns the things of the spirit, of the soul, those things which do not end, do not change with the change of time and of people. Saint Paul says, “Each one should consider himself as Christ’s servant, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. In such a matter, what is expected of stewards is that each one should be found trustworthy” (1Cor 4,1 ff), and in Peter: “Each one of you has received a special grace, so, like good stewards responsible for all these varied graces of God, put it at the service of others” (1 Pet 4:10). Therefore, I understand that I am also an administrator of the mysteries and of the grace of God, through the simple and poor instrument, which is my own life; in it I am called to be faithful and good. But this adjective “good”, is the same which John uses referring to the Shepherd, to Jesus: “kalòs” that is, beautiful and good. Why? Simply, because He offers His life to the Father for the sheep. This is the unique, true administration which is entrusted to me in this world, for the future world.
* What is the shrewdness of the administrator of the Lord?
The passage says that the master praises his dishonest steward, because he acted with “astuteness” and he repeats the word “shrewd”, a bit later. Perhaps a more correct translation could be “sage”, that is “wise”, or “prudent”. It is a wisdom that results from an attentive, deep thinking, from reflection, from study and the application of the mind, of affection for something which is of great interest. As an adjective this term is found, for example, in Mt 7:24, where true wisdom is shown of the man who builds his house on rock and not on sand, that is, the man who bases his existence on the word of the Lord or also in Mt 25, where he says that the virgins who had the oil for their lamps were wise, so that they will not be taken over by darkness, but who know how to wait always with invincible, incorruptible love, for their Spouse and Lord, when he returns. Therefore, this steward is wise and prudent, not because he takes advantage of others, but because he has known how to regulate and transform his life according to the measure and the form of the life of his Lord: he has committed himself totally, with his whole being, mind, heart, will, desire in imitating the one he serves.
* Dishonesty and injustice
Another word which is repeated many times is “dishonest”, “dishonesty”; the steward is said to be dishonest and thus also rich in injustice. Dishonesty is a characteristic which can corrode the being, in big things, in the great, but also in the small. The Greek text does not precisely use the word “dishonest”, but the “administrator or steward of injustice”, “richness of injustice”, and “unjust in the minimum”, “unjust in much”. Injustice is a bad distribution, not impartial or just, not balanced; it lacks harmony, it lacks a center which will attract all energy, all care and intent to itself; it causes fractures, wounds, pain over pain, accumulation on one side and lack of all on the other. All of us, in some way, come into contact, with the reality of injustice, because it belongs to this world. And we feel dragged on one and other side; we lose harmony, balance and beauty; and we cannot deny it because it is like that. The Gospel precisely condemns this strong lack of harmony, which is accumulation, to keep things aside, to increase them continually, possession and it shows us the way to obtain healing, which is a gift or giving, sharing, to give with an open heart, with mercy, like the Father does with us, without getting tired, without becoming less or poor.
* And, what is mammon?
The word mammon appears in the whole Bible, in this chapter of Luke in (vv. 9,11, and 13) and in Mt 6:24. It is a Semitic term which corresponds to “riches”, “possession”, “gain”, but it becomes almost the personification of the god-money which men serve very foolishly, slaves of that “unquenchable greed, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). Here everything becomes clear; it is full light. Now, I know well which is the question which I still have, after the encounter with this Word of the Lord: “I, whom do I want to serve?” The choice is only one, unique, and concrete. I keep in my heart this colossal, marvelous and sweet verb, the verb “to serve” and I ponder it, and I draw from it all the substance of truth which it contains. The words of Joshua to the people come to my mind: “If serving Yahweh seems a bad thing to you, today you must make up your minds whom you do mean to serve!” (Josh 24:15). I know that I am unjust, that I am an unfaithful administrator, foolish. I know that I have nothing, but today I choose, with everything that I am , to serve the Lord. (cf. Acts 20:19; I Thess 1:9; Gal 1:10; Rom 12:11).
6. A Moment of Prayer: Psalm 49
Reflection of Wisdom on the heart
which finds its riches in the presence of God
Blessed are you who are poor:
the kingdom of God is yours.
Hear this, all nations, listen, all who dwell on earth,
people high and low, rich and poor alike!
My lips have wisdom to utter,
my heart good sense to whisper.
I listen carefully to a proverb;
I set my riddle to the music of the harp.
Why should I be afraid in times of trouble?
Malice dogs me and hems me in.
They trust in their wealth,
and boast of the profusion of their riches.
But no one can ever redeem himself
or pay his own ransom to God,
the price for himself is too high; it can never be
that he will live on for ever
and avoid the sight of the abyss.
For he will see the wise also die
no less than the fool and the brute,
and leave their wealth behind for others.
In prosperity people lose their good sense,
they become no better than dumb animals.
But my soul God will ransom from the clutches of Sheol,
and will snatch me up.
Do not be overawed when someone gets rich,
and lives in ever greater splendor;
when he dies he will take nothing with him,
his wealth will not go down with him.
Though he pampered himself while he lived
- and people praise you for looking after yourself -
he will go to join the ranks of his ancestors,
who will never again see the light.
“God wants a gratuitous love, that is, a pure love…God fills the hearts, not the strongbox or coffer. What are riches good for if your heart is empty?” (St. Augustine).
7. Closing Prayer
Lord, thank You for this time spent with You, listening to Your voice which spoke to me with love and infinite mercy; I feel that my life is healed only when I remain with You, in You, when I allow You to take me. You have taken in Your hands my greed, which renders me dry and arid, which closes me up, and makes me sad and leaves me alone; You have taken my insatiable avarice, which fills me with emptiness and pain; You have accepted and taken upon Yourself my ambiguity and infidelity, my tired and awkward limping. Lord, I am happy when I open myself to You and show You all my wounds! Thank You for the balm of Your Word and of Your silence. Thank You for the breath of Your Spirit, which takes away the bad breath of evil, of the enemy.
Lord, I have robbed. I know it. I have taken away what was not mine. I have buried it, I have wasted it; from now on I want to begin to return, to give back, I want to live my life as a gift always multiplied and shared among many. My life is a small thing, but in Your hands it will become barrels of oil, measures of grain, consolation and food for my brothers and sisters.
Lord, I have no other words to say before such great and overflowing love. That is why I do only one thing: I open the doors of the heart and with a smile, I will accept all those whom You will send to me… (Acts 28:30).