In the ancient world, few people owned all the tools necessary to accomplish their daily tasks. Instead, they rented tools from wealthier members of the community. People paid a share of whatever the tool helped them produce as rent. When a manager ran an estate for an absent landlord, as in today’s gospel reading, that manager received a portion of the rent as a commission for arranging the loan. Jesus called the manager in today’s gospel prudent because he freely sacrificed his short-term enrichment (even in the face of unemployment!) for the long-term security he hoped would come from his grateful borrowers.
In teaching us about the right use of possessions, Jesus is also teaching us about forgiveness. None of us created our own prosperity. All of us are dependent on gifts from God and the hard work of others. This is what the dishonest steward realized. His commissions, although legal, had nothing to do with his own labor; they were entirely dependent on his master’s wealth and his clients’ hard work. If he should forego such “dishonest wealth” now, he knew he would find treasure in the future. Had he clung to the pittance owed to him, he would have never found the security he desired.
Clinging to anything is dangerous business; when we cling, we rehearse a habit that can affect all parts of our life. People who are stingy with their wealth are often also stingy with forgiveness and generosity. We cannot serve both greed and God. We must choose to trust one or the other. Can we learn to trust God and forgive our debtors, so that in return God may trust us to transform the world through love?
—Fr. Michael Simone, S.J. is beginning his ministry as instructor in Old Testament Studies at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry