To read the texts click on the texts: Am8:4-7; 1 Tim 2:1-8; Lk16:1-13
The story is told of a man who was caught stealing. He was ordered by the king to be hanged. On the way to the gallows, he said to the governor that he knew a wonderful secret and it would be a pity to allow it to die with him. He wanted to disclose it only to the king and so, he was taken to the king. He told the king that he would put a seed of a mango into the ground and, through a secret taught to him by his father, he would make it grow and bear fruit overnight. There would be no need to wait for the mango season or for years; the result would be almost immediate. The king was intrigued.
The next day, the thief, accompanied by the king and several ministers and officers of high ranking, was taken to a field. There, the thief dug a hole in the ground and spoke out the secret saying, “For this seed to grow overnight, it must be put into the ground only by a man who has never stolen or taken anything which did not belong to him. That man must be a totally honest man. Since it will only grow if this condition is fulfilled, I cannot do it since I am a thief. One of you will have to plant the seed.” The thief turned to the Vizier who, frightened, said that in his younger days he had retained something which did not belong to him. The treasurer said that dealing with such large sums, he might have entered too much or too little and even the king owned that he had kept a necklace of his father’s without permission. The thief then looked at all of them and smiled. The king, pleased with the ruse of the thief, pardoned him.
On the one hand, a story like this might lend itself to being interpreted to mean that dishonesty or thievery is all right. It might be taken to mean that, though the man had done something wrong, he got away with subterfuge and cunning. However, the point is not so much that, as the fact that, when faced with death, the thief uses all his ingenuity, creativity, and inventiveness to save his life. He uses all his skill to get out of an extremely difficult situation.
This is also the point that Jesus makes in the parable that forms the Gospel text for today. Jesus is not praising dishonesty or even the dishonest steward. His focus in the parable is on the prompt and speedy action that the steward takes. He takes control of a terrible situation and acts decisively because his livelihood and therefore, his life are at stake. He casts caution to the winds, seizes an opportunity and makes provisions for his future.
More importantly, the focus of Jesus is on the contrast between the steps that a person takes for things that are temporary and the lethargy that is shown by most when it comes to things that are eternal. This is what Jesus means when he says,” … for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
This lethargic attitude regarding things that are eternal is the attitude that Amos berates in the first reading of today. The people imagined that the good fortune that they were presently enjoying would continue forever and so, concentrated only on earthly, temporary realities. They would not repent, or seize the opportunity to make amends. They would continue to carry on with the evil they were doing. They would continue to “practice deceit with false balances” “trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land”. They would continue to cheat the poor and downtrodden and be concerned only with how much they can earn for themselves and that, through unfair and unjust means. Their belly has become their god.
Yet, now is the time of salvation, now is the appointed hour and so, decisions as important as these cannot be left for tomorrow or even later. The kingdom of God is indeed in our midst and in us and this is why we who are called to focus on permanence and eternalness have to act in the present moment. How is this focus attained? What changes must we make in order to get back this focus?
Paul gives us an indication in the second reading of today when he calls Timothy, and us, to supplications and prayers for a peaceable life.
This is a life where each person will live in dignity. This is a life where no one will be in need because there will be equitable distribution and each will have what he/she needs.
This is a life in which none will show the greed and selfishness that has become so much part of our culture and way of living.
This is a life in which “Christ Jesus, himself human,” who dared to give himself as a ransom for all, is the inspiration that, if followed, will make that life a reality.
This is a life in which each one is determined to live for the values of love and justice – everlasting values of the kingdom of God.