Today’s Gospel account from Luke is considered to be among the most difficult scriptural texts to understand. Some scholars have said even St. Augustine remarked that he couldn’t believe this story came from the lips of our Lord. The title given this story — “The Parable of the Dishonest Steward” — hints at what all the fuss is about.
Scripture scholars such as Luke Timothy Johnson, Cynthia Jarvis and Elizabeth Johnson say this is the tale of an estate manager skilled in the art of crooked business dealings. He was so duplicitous that when he was fired for blatant criminal activity, he found a way of protecting his future. His former employer seemingly shook his head in disbelief at how cunning he was. He even gets praise from Jesus!
At first glance, it’s baffling. Why would Jesus recommend the strategies of a crooked schemer? Because despite all his dishonesty, the man represents someone who is smart enough to ensure that his interests, however unscrupulous, will be protected in the future.
Through this story, Jesus is urging us to do the same. He’s telling us to act with the same determination to ensure our future. He’s insisting we should be as intensely concerned about our ultimate fulfillment as this con man was about his.
The whole point of the parable is to remind us what really matters, what truly counts in the long run: experiencing the divine love that will transform us. This is our true future. To obtain that goal, we are being challenged by this Gospel story to order our lives accordingly.
Today is celebrated throughout the United States as Catechetical Sunday. (As part of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis will celebrate a Jubilee for catechists on September 25 in St. Peter’s Square.) It’s a time set aside to thank all the catechists and teachers who devote their lives to handing on the gift of faith. It’s likewise a day to remind us about the importance of learning what the essentials of our faith really are. Such teaching, of course, begins in the home with parents, grandparents and caregivers. They are our first teachers through word and action. They are also the first to pass on values that can be permanently implanted in the hearts of children.
We have been blessed in the United States with a church that has emphasized the importance of teaching and catechizing. Through the years, an invaluable school system has reached out to millions of families in an effort to pass on the principles and values contained in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
It’s been a remarkably successful venture, following the directive of Jesus in today’s story of the dishonest steward: Prepare for the future; put all your energy and talents into ensuring that your life is fully committed to the reality of God’s reign.
Our bishops recommend that one of the best ways we can continue to do all of this is to make prayer central in our lives. They ask that all of us — especially our catechists and Catholic school teachers — devote ourselves to deeper study and practice of prayer.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux said that “prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look toward heaven; it is a cry of recognition of love.”
St. Francis de Sales assured us that “every one of us needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy — then we need an hour.”The dishonest steward used his wits to get what he wanted. We get to use prayer.
Peace, Fr. Kevin