This Sunday Jesus teaches us the purpose of money: to win friends among the poor so that they will welcome us into heaven. When stated so baldly, it sounds crass, but it is not. Before analyzing the parable of the dishonest manager, I'd like to share a personal experience.
In my parish in Peru there were families desperate for the things we take for granted: shoes for their children, warm blankets, decent food. One woman, struggling to raise four children by herself, used to come every month for some assistance. Her two older girls (about 11 and 8 years old) came with her. When they entered the room, they would kneel before the crucifix, recite an Our Father, a Hail Mary, then sing the hymn Juntos Como Hermanos (Together Like Brothers). As children everywhere they wanted things such as food, clothes and the chance to go to school. But they were also aware their mom could not herself provide those things. They depended more directly upon God, in this case God moving the hearts of people far away to make a donation for the poor.
That is an example of what Jesus tells us today. When we use our money to help the poor, even if they are far away and unknown to us, they become friends who will pray for us and welcome us into the kingdom. This is not just a matter of occasionally helping the poor (altho that can be a very good start). What Jesus wants is for us to change the way we look at money--and the way we look at the poor.
Our usual view of money and the poor was summed up by a presidential candidate a few years back. When asked about whether the U.S. should help Mexico in its economic crisis he stated that we should not bother so much about Mexico because its entire economy is smaller than that of the state of New Jersey. It is economic power that gives the people of New Jersey their great worth! Talking about China someone made the same kind of statement: China's total economy is smaller than the state of California. Thus thirty-five million Californians are worth more than 1.2 billion Chinese.
Jesus is telling us that kind of thinking is all wet. What makes someone valuable is not his money, but his relation to God. These past few weeks we have been made aware of how illusory money really is. I know a guy who watches the stock market every day. He calculates that for every point the Dow Jones goes up, he makes ten dollars. But also for every point it drops he loses ten dollars. A couple weeks back he lost about five thousand in a single day. I didn't remind him that if he had a heart seizure he would have lost much more in mere second. We have all heard, "You cannot take it with you." And "there is never a U-Haul behind a hearse." Those sayings are so true they make us smile. But another saying is also true, "You can only take with you what you give away."
People have always puzzled over today's parable of the unjust steward (also called dishonest manager or the devious employee). It seems like Jesus is endorsing a kind of cheating or dishonesty. But we must remember that parables are stories with a single point. To avoid confusion Jesus himself states the point. "Make friends for yourselves through your use of this world's goods, so that when they fail you, a lasting reception may be yours." The Revised Standard Version, which once again translates more literally, says, "Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations." (Lk 16:9)
I'd like to reflect a moment on that unrighteous mammon. Why does Jesus call mammon or money, unrighteous? Not that money is evil in itself. (The Bible does not say "money is the root of all evil," but "love of money is the root of all evil.") Money is not evil, but neither is it righteous. Money itself cannot make a person right before God. It does not give a person true worth. In fact, when we stop to think, money comes to us by means largely beyond our control. I'm not just talking about my friend who watches the stock market rise and fall--and has absolutely no control over it movement. The same applies to all the elements which favor a person economically: being born in the U.S. or having the opportunity to immigrate here, having energetic parents, ones own intelligence and energy, etc. Those factors and many more are what the world calls luck and we call God's providence. It is nothing to get puffed up about. Just the opposite, it is a heavy responsibility, what Jesus calls stewardship.
Suppose that you could foresee a massive stock market collapse. How much better it would be to use the money to help the poor, to give to St. Vincent de Paul, the Missions or (pardon the plug) the Mary Bloom Center! But that in fact is the situation each of us faces. I had a memorial Mass last week for a man about my age who died of an aggressive cancer. He at least had a few weeks to consider matters before he died. There are many other (maybe you, maybe me) who have a clot painlessly forming which will end their life in an instant. I've heard that in about a third of all heart attacks the first symptom is death. If that happens, your personal Dow Jones average will drop back to zero. Better to use it now to win friends among the poor.
My point is not to sell your stocks and give to the poor (altho that is an option). Only a few are called to literally do that, for example to become Trappist Monks. But all of us are called to be stewards. What you have does not belong to you--you are a simple adminstator. You have no righteousness because of it. Nevertheless what you give away will have great value for you--because of the prayers of the poor.
The poor have a quality of prayer difficult for us to achieve. We are so used to getting the things we want--and when we want them. Not so with the poor, not so. They often have a patience, a sense of dependence which eludes us. Those two girls who knelt to say the Our Father, the Hail Mary and to sing a hymn are powerful intercessors. We need them on our side. "I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon..."
From Archives (25th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Boston Globe's Misleading Article on Catholic Church
Deflating Darwin's Dangerous Idea
Stephen Jay Gould: Gorbachev of Darwinism?
Test Tube Offspring Want to Know Father
Erickson vs. Bartell Drugs
Call No Man Father
What is Original Sin of Sex?
Bicentennial Man (Hidden Assumptions)
Bogus Knights of Columbus Oath
See also: An Eternally Unbridgeable Chasm
The Fiery Furnace
Jesus Teaching Concerning Heaven
Some Good News on Teen Pregnancy and Abortion
Hitler's Pope: Comic Book Approach to Church History
He Approached the Victim: "It's much more likely one of your relatives will lose his life by surgical abortion than by heart attack."
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated September 2013)
My Top Ten Teaching Opportunities
Outline of Geography of Faith
Geography of Faith, Part One (audio file of homily given on September 15, 2013)