Friday, September 30, 2011


Last week I was reading Luke 16:1 ff, the parable of the Dishonest Steward. You remember the story: when he heard that he was about to lose his job as steward, this clever guy went out and made friends with a lot of people by reducing the amount they owed to his boss. Jesus tells us “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. (16:8)"


It seems odd to see Jesus commending someone for cheating, but you have to remember that this is a parable – the rules are different. This is not a story about moral principles and business ethics, so we have to ignore that aspect of the tale and concentrate on the main point Jesus is making. He himself tells us the point: Christians ought to devote as much thought and foresight to their Christian life as people in the larger culture give to their business dealings.

The Greek word translated as “shrewd” is phronimos, which is based on the Greek root phren-, “intellect, mind, understanding.” So Jesus is telling us that we should be more “intelligent, prudent, sensible, or wise” when dealing with matters of the Spirit. I’m sure many of us don’t score high in this category, since we often don’t act on our basic Christian beliefs but instead act selfishly, without using our brain.


As I was reading this parable in my French Bible de J√©rusalem I noticed the note in the margin. Here’s what it says [my loose translation]: In this parable Jesus isn’t concerned about morality. He is inviting us to look closely at the hard work that a man is doing on himself because he has suddenly become aware of his fragility.” That really struck me: this important official has suddenly become aware of his fragility and is sharp enough to respond accordingly. I spent the rest of my meditation time that
morning looking at my own "fragility." I’ve become progressively more aware of my physical limitations in the past few years, and I’ve made peace with that kind of fragility. But I had to spend more effort in identifying and admitting the other (and more important) kinds of “fragility” in my life. And this kind of mental effort is exactly what Jesus is exhorting us to in the parable. It’s precisely what Luke means by the word phronimos.

But I already know that my Master is going to put an end to my service and demand an accounting of what I’ve done with my gifts. So it’s time for me to start “using my head” and being phronimos. The unjust servant in the parable settled on the strategy of GIVING to others. His giving was of course based on cynical self-interest. But my own shrewd actions as a Christian in an equally “fragile” position must also involve giving; except it’s the self-giving of love in imitation of Christ.


So I have started to look for any and every opportunity to be a giving person. As a teacher I have tons of opportunities every day. The same with being a member of a community, and a priest celebrating Sunday mass in a parish And then there are friends in need of an email or a phone call, and on and on. I pray that I’ll be able to stay phronimos and become more and more of a giving person until that day when the Master really does come and say “Okay, your service is at and end.”

If I’ve been as shrewd as the steward in the parable then the maybe Lord will also add, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

In what ways is the Lord expecting YOU to a be more giving person? What opportunities for giving will you need to account for on the day when your stewardship finally comes to an end?

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