Hopefully it doesn’t need saying that Our Lord is not recommending dishonesty in today’s Gospel. The point to the story of the dishonest steward is found in what Jesus goes on to say about money. The whole reason that the steward has been dishonest, presumably, is that he is obsessed with money. Yet when he finds himself in trouble he realises that there is something more important than physical money, and that is how others regard him. And so rather than one last attempt to extract money from his masters accounts for himself, he uses them to assist others, in the hope that he will be assisted himself. He isn’t any more virtuous than he was; he is still very much, as Our Lord calls him, one of the children of the world, but he is a little wiser.
If that perspective can come even to the children of the world, how much more, Jesus suggests, should those who hope to be children of light see things.
This Gospel passage remind me of a homily preached by emeritus Pope Benedict in the days when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. He was reflecting on what truly lasts, and points out that very little that we count as human achievement does. The most splendid buildings will one day be demolished or fall down. The most popular songs will be forgotten. Once successful books will be left unread to moulder away. In fact the only truly lasting impact we have is on the only truly eternal things we encounter: human souls.
Worldly success and fame, even if honestly and worthily achieved, are of little account compared to what effect we have on those among whom we live. It is never a pretty sight when we see those who have had success show no care for others. Which is why Jesus stresses the point about two masters.
We are all, I hope, aware that it is always and everywhere wrong to treat people as the means to an end. Our fellow men and women are always ends in themselves, not just tools to achieve something we desire. But it is also wrong to treat things that are only meant to be the means to something better as ends in themselves.
That is the great problem with greed and materialism. It is making something that is meant to be only a tool into an object of desire, seeing it as a goal. It is like the man who needs a warm home obsessing about his magnificent collection of hammers, rather than using them to create a house.
That is Our Lord’s great point. There is a wonderful house prepared for us, which God wants to give us. But if we obsess about our tools, rather than using them for what they were designed, we shut ourselves off from that great gift. A proper use of those worldly tools, however, opens the way for us to receive the gift.
Even a dishonest steward, Our Lord says, can get some glimpse of that truth, and in his own flawed way start to move towards it. How much more then should we, who wish to be children of light, seek to live that truth in our daily lives, and seek to use the things of this world for the good of our brothers and sisters.
Fr Chris Denham