Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost – July 15, 2018. The Parable of the Unjust Steward by Fr. Paul Alvarez Norton
Father began the sermon by reciting the Hail Mary
“For whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are sons of God” says St. Paul in today’s Epistle. But what does it mean to be led by the Holy Ghost? It means to live in holiness. The entire text of today’s Mass reminds us that we must ask God for the grace to do what is right, to do His Divine Will. Those who obey His Will until the end, as His good children, are precisely those whom we call saints. There is a well-known story among ermine hunters that I would like to mention here. It is said that this animal which is known for its white fur, perhaps one of the most expensive furs that exist, is very difficult to capture. Therefore, hunters wait for it to come out of its burrow and when outside they put mud over the entrance of the burrow. When the ermine returns to its home and finds the entrance covered with mud, it refuses to enter and sully its fine fur. Then the hunters jump on it and catch it because they know it will not move. As they say, this animal dressed in immaculate white surrenders because it prefers to die rather than to soil its fur. Thus the ermine became associated with phrases such as “death before defilement”, “death rather than dishonor” and, Malo Mori Quam Foedari, “I prefer death to defilement”. Such great purity is the marvelous symbol of the ermine. This is precisely one of the characteristics of holiness. Today we have two texts that seem contradictory at first sight. In the first one, St. Paul exhorts us to obtain the very high ideals of the children of God (who we are). In the second, Our Lord Himself sets an example of an astute man who in the Vulgate is called, villicum iniquitatis or a steward of inequity; but in the original Greek is called a prudent man. Now many of Christ’s parables are enigmatic and looking at them with weary eyes can at times seem almost contradictory. The same apostles once asked Him, Why do you speak in parables? To which Christ responded, “So that seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear”. Although Christ is the revealer of the revelations of the Father, He never hesitated to uphold what the prophets had already spoken about the Lord. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.” So the big question here is this: If holiness consists in doing the will of God, how do we know what is the right way for our life? We will return to this question later. First, we have to consider the characters in this parable. The master who is a rich man, homo dives, and the steward. The master is the man who imposes respect and is incomprehensible, very far from the idea of God that many pusillanimous Catholics have. In fact, if we pay attention we will notice that all the masters in the parables of Christ have these same characteristics. The master in the parable of the workers of the eleventh hour, he of the servants who owe ten thousand talents, the one who left to take charge of a distant kingdom and the father of the prodigal son. Christ represented His Heavenly Father as a rich man, all inspiring, strict in business, good at heart but almost frightening. The master of this parable suddenly dismisses the steward because he was told he was fraudulently administrating his affairs. After firing him he asked him to make an account of his stewardship which was the first thing he needed to do to know if what had been reported to him was true or not, for certainly there was much gossip as the gospel emphasizes. Until then it was only rumor, nothing was proven. Then as the steward had done something quite clever to assure his future, the master praised him saying that he was an intelligent man. The reaction of this master is not very easy to understand but what is easily understood is that the steward did something that pleased the master, that from his past actions and human failure he managed to get something good. Our life is full of situations like this where things do not go according to plan. But if we trust that God’s plan is always the best for us we can find the good in each situation. This is not to be optimistic. It is to be realistic; that is, to pay attention to the higher reality that underlies the illusions of the material reality that we see. In this way we are able to discover the will of God. To do His will we must be united to Him through prayer. We must be in a state of grace and we should want to give Him the gift of our trust. What the Lord suggests in this gospel is, if we have lost the state of grace, God forbid, at least we should never lose our trust in God and the desire to recover His grace. Now, about the steward, I must say that if you were to consider him as a thief you would be in good company, the company of many of the Church fathers. You may also not consider him as a thief and then you will be in the company of four or five ideas given by the gospel itself. In the Spanish Missal of Azcarate, there is a note to this gospel that says, “Jesus Christ did not approve the criminal behavior of the steward but only his sagacity”. It is an unhappy note. How could Christ approve or praise if sagacity plays a disservice to a crime? No. In addition, we must take into account what I mentioned earlier that the text calls the steward “prudent”. On the other hand, his cleverness is certainly demonstrated in the gospel which could indicate that he was not exactly an example of innocence but that is exactly what this parable is about. In our experiences in this life, the good and the bad ones, the happy and the sad ones, we should look for a way to approach God. We must never fall into despair. When our situation does not seem to be the best it is undoubtedly necessary to consider it as the steward did who said, “What shall I do? It seems that my master is taking away the stewardship from me. To dig I am not able: to beg I am ashamed.” After this we must immediately look for ways to recover the grace of God. In short, the lesson of Christ in this parable is that we must use our intelligence in the business of our salvation which is the only business that matters; at least as much as a worldly man does in their own earthly business. As an additional note I must mention that this parable we heard today in which God is represented by a rich man is followed by another which begins with almost the same words, Homo quidam erat dives. “There was once a rich man”. It is the parable of the rich man, Lazarus. Christ could not be clearer. Wealth can be good or bad depending on whether we put it at the service of God or the devil. May God allow us always to put our life in the service of his Divine Will. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.