I love parables. But, scholars agree, today’s is puzzling. Is it a parable of an unjust steward? A shrewd manager? Or, is it really about the master? And what lessons are we to learn?
Using Ignatian imagination, I put myself in various shoes to get the message.
First, I’m the unjust steward. When I first take my job, I’m grateful—handling the business affairs of my boss sure beats digging or begging. But the boss is away a lot, so I start getting sloppy. Eventually, I take my job for granted and squander valuable resources. It’s not long before I’m taking a cut of the action and padding my pockets. “This is great,” I think to myself, “I’ll never get caught!”
But I do get caught. So now, I’m the shrewd manager. I’ve learned how to game the system, so getting fired doesn’t mean I’m down and out. I consider my options and voila, I’ll just use the boss’s property to barter for the allegiance of the people I will soon need. I’m so good that even my bamboozled boss recognizes my shrewdness!
If I’m the rich man, at first I’m upset to learn that my steward has squandered my property and brought dishonor. But I’m all about business and I can’t help but recognize this guy’s got skills. Whatever he’s wasted of mine is really not that big of a deal since I’m rich. In his latest move he’s actually curried favor with my clients and made me look good! Good for him for not giving up, and for being so shrewd!
It’s not hard to imagine an employee working the system for personal gain, or even a boss who’s been hoodwinked praising the perpetrator for recovering well. But these can’t be the lessons Jesus wants to teach.
So, I linger on the last line, and then it dawns on me. Jesus is encouraging his disciples and people of faith to change the game. What if we were as shrewd for the Kingdom of God as others are for money and personal gain? What if we were stewards of love and mercy, justice and joy for the Master. What if we found every angle to foster community and care for the common good? What if we served the greatest needs and put the last first?
How can we be skilled and shrewd about building the Kingdom? In our day-to-day activities, how can we reveal what love looks like by moving beyond our self-interest and serving others better?
—Jeremy Langford is the director of communications for the Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits and author of Seeds of Faith: Practices to Grow a Healthy Spiritual Life ©2007 Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA.