Friday, November 5, 2010



I don’t suppose that teenage boys are the only ones who get asked this question, but it seems to me that counselors and discipline personnel in our school find themselves asking it over and over. “What where you thinking when you did that?” The usual answer to “What were you thinking” is a shamefaced “I wasn’t.”

The gospel reading for mass this Friday, Nov. 5, contains a strange parable that speaks to the question of “What were you thinking?” You probably know the story, but here it is anyway.

Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. (Lk 16:1-8).

Jesus wants us to bracket for a moment the question of the moral rightness of giving away someone else’s property and concentrate instead on the shrewdness behind the servant’s behavior. The Greek word for “shrewd” here is phronimos, which means something like “brainy” or “using your head.” Jesus is praising the steward for recognizing how fragile his position is and then acting with wise forethought to protect himself. If one were to ask the clever steward “What were you thinking” the fellow would have a clear answer; he knew exactly what he was doing. He was using his phren, his mind. Because he understood the precariousness of his position he was planning ahead.
Jesus remarks that this clever fellow shows a lot more foresight in his wicked dealings than we Christians show in our own decision-making about our eternal salvation. For example, when I start to slack off on my daily spiritual reading, a central requirement for my spiritual health, Jesus asks “What are you thinking?” When I treat a student shabbily because I’m tired, Jesus asks “What were you thinking? Whatsoever you do to the least of my people you do to me!”

The month of November, during which the church remembers the faithful departed, reminds us that each of us is in a fragile position: one day each of us is going to die and appear before the throne of judgment to give an account of our stewardship. When it’s my turn I hope to be “commended” by the Lord the way that prudent steward was by his master.

In any case I surely wouldn’t want the Lord’s first words to me to be
..................“What were you thinking!”


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