To help you gain greater understanding when reading this coming Sunday’s Gospel parables, we offer a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM for your prayer. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection September 22 2019 Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photographs: Flowers of St. Francis by Father Brendan Wroblewski, OFM
Luke 16:1-13 (short version Luke16:10-13)
Then he also 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 kors 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 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 God and mammon.”
The gospel from last week told of sinners and tax collectors drawing near Jesus. But the Pharisees and the scribes complained about Jesus’ association with these people. In response, Jesus told the three parables of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7), the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). That well-known parable ends with the father telling his oldest son, “Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32)
What follows in Luke’s gospel is the parable of the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-8) which is followed by a string of sayings that seems to interpret the parable (Luke 16:9-13). That parable and those sayings are the gospel text for this Sunday.
For many this parable seems to be difficult to understand, because the owner seems to be rewarding the steward for behavior that is contemptable and illegal. Hopefully this will make it more apparent that the parable is coming out of a culture that is very different from our own, and therefore it is an invitation to grow in appreciation of the culture and the times from which the parable comes.
It might be helpful to point out in the gospel from last Sunday that the eldest son spoke of his brother as the son who had returned after having swallowed up their father’s property. Other texts translated swallowed as squandering; the same word used describe what the steward had done with his master’s property that led to his dismissal. This too should help raise some questions, and trigger a need to look at this parable anew.
A steward is to manage his master’s resources in ways that will benefit his master. The text does not say the steward has cheated his master, only that he squandered his property, and is therefore being relieved of his responsibilities. He could have been fined and asked to return whatever property the master felt was lost by his mismanagement, or even been taken to court, which would have been a much more public and legal course of action. However, the steward decides to use the time when his dismissal would become known to his advantage. As steward. he has the authority to make agreements for his master. He calls in two men who have agreements with his master for how they are to pay for use of his land. In both cases they are to pay a fixed amount in rent. Perhaps partly inspired by his master’s generosity and partly inspired by his desperate situation, the steward reduces the payment significantly in both cases. This will create a relationship with each where they are bound in some way to repay the steward after he is dismissed.
At the same time, it also creates a great deal of good will toward his master. Social norms of the day would require these two to make known the generosity of the master. As the story is told and retold, the master’s esteem within the community rises. If now the master were to dismiss his servant and reveal the dishonesty of his servant, his reputation would then be negatively impacted. Instead the master commends his dishonest servant for acting prudently.
How has this steward acted prudently? The rest of Jesus exhortation about the right use of wealth sheds some light on the prudent use of wealth. The master in the parable was going to dismiss his servant because he squandered his property. He too was thinking like the elder son, who sees property as possession to be accumulated. Both the servant and the prodigal’s father see property as a way to build relationships, and as something to be shared. In this light, the other sayings in the gospel enhance this perspective on the right use of wealth and property.
Jesus’ values, as he teaches those who would be his disciples, are meant to be a challenge, and that is succinctly stated in the last line of the gospel. “You cannot serve God and mammon.”
1. When you think of “squandering,” what feelings or images come to mind?
2. What are the some of the ways that you strive to build your relationships with others and with God?
3. In the last week, or the past few days, how have you used wealth to build relationships?
4. What could you learn from the master in this gospel parable? What could you learn from the steward?
5. The steward in this parable says of himself that he is not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg. How have your limits helped to reveal how God was working and is working in your life?
6. Can you take some time now to talk with God about how you use the wealth at your disposal, about your desire to be single-minded, or about some of the emotions that rose within you as you reflected on this gospel?