The parable of the wicked steward is one of those passages from Scripture that is widely discussed because it causes much reflection. Why is the dishonest steward being praised? He did something wrong, how can Jesus praise him?
One interpretation that can be helpful is that Jesus is not praising the wrong doing but using the wicked servant to propose a comparison. The servant responds to his master’s call for accountability in an immediate and clever way albeit with questionable morals. Jesus is not calling us to emulate the manner in which the wicked servant acted but the immediacy. The dishonest servant responded immediately when his master called him to account. If this servant can respond immediately when dealing with worldly demands or goods, we too should respond immediately when dealing with spiritual or heavenly demands or responsibilities.
The contrast between heavenly goods and earthly goods culminates with Jesus saying “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 both God and mammon.”
Jesus calls us to place God above all other goods or demands or responsibilities in our lives. With God as the center, the value of spiritual goods and temporal goods receive their proper place and value. If God is not at the center, if he is not in the first place, it is easy to make wrong decisions on the appropriation and use of any good.
The first reading from the prophet Amos gives us an example of how things can go badly when God is not at the center. Amos condemns his listeners who “trample the needy and destroy the poor of the land.”
They are so concerned with making money that they forget the law of the Lord. They look forward to the Sabbath so they can “display the wheat” for sale. They desire to fix their scales by which they sell the grain. They treat the poor as objects for their gain. They have forsaken the law of the Lord for personal gain.
The call to immediacy in our response to the Lord, placing God at the center of our lives and the care for the poor and needy are all interrelated. Love of God and love of neighbor are the two great commands; and we are reminded in the parable of the Good Samaritan that the one in need is our neighbor.
Jesus teaches us to care for the poor and needy. He is the example par excellence of one who does this. He feeds the hungry, heals the sick, invites the outcasts to dine with him, and keeps company with known sinners. Regardless of the type of “poverty,” Jesus reaches out to them with compassion and love.
The psalmist says that the Lord “raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes, with the princes of his own people.” Certainly the poor are those who have material needs: food, clothing, shelter, medicine and so forth. The demand of the Gospel to care for and to help those in need is clear. At the same time, there are other types of poverty.
Blessed “Mother” Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” Jesus reached out to everyone in need of love and mercy – whatever their state or condition in life.
There is an abundance of poverty in our midst and the call to respond is given by Christ himself. The call to love God above all things entails the call to love God in the poor and needy we meet every day. The challenge is to respond immediately to their need. Doing this requires us to be attentive, to be diligent and to be willing to act.
If the wicked servant can respond to the demands of his master, we too should be willing to respond to the demands of our Master.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.