It’s not often I look in the mirror and see a shifty steward.
It happened today, though, as I reflected on the reading from Luke’s gospel we heard at Mass.
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.
Truth be told, I’ve never much liked this story. It offends my sense of righteousness: Shouldn’t the kingdom of heaven be about fair-play?
But there was grace in the hearing today—grace conferred in part by my recent experience on a Kairos Prison Ministry retreat team at Menard. One of the most profound gifts I received on the weekend was an observation made by an inmate-participant during “open mic” time:
‘Christianity boils down to this,’ he said. ‘It’s just one beggar…showing another beggar…where to find the Bread.’
Beggars are blessed, I suppose…because they harbor no illusions about the Source of their meager provisions. They don’t ‘earn’ their bread, so there’s little or no sense of entitlement.
A steward, on the other hand, can be blinded by bounty. Surrounded by gifts, awash in aptitude…it’s easy for the steward to mistake ‘privilege’ for ‘birthright.’ Easier still, for habits of squandering to settle in.
As I heard the parable this morning, I thought of the opportunities I’d had—just a couple of weeks ago—to rewrite promissory notes for a number of men inside the prison. I had spoken to them about the forgiveness and reconciliation Jesus offers, free for the asking. And I assured them that I had taken Jesus up on the offer many times, myself.
So all of a sudden today, I found myself hearing this parable in an entirely new way. Hearing it, through the ears of a shifty steward—but one who’s perhaps grown prudent enough to recognize a truly great deal…and who’s learning, from beggars, how important it is to share.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.