Scripture Speaks: Possession and Money


Gospel (Read Lk 16:1-13)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable in which a slightly sleazy steward becomes the hero of the story.  Very odd!  We must place this parable in its context in order to fully understand it.  Remember that in the previous chapter, not only were His disciples in attendance, but the Pharisees were, too (see 15:1-2).  They were full of criticism of Jesus for welcoming sinners and eating with them.  That criticism prompted the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Now, Jesus once again addresses His disciples, but the Pharisees were still there.  In Lk 16:14, the very first verse after our Gospel reading about money, St. Luke writes:  “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this and scoffed at Him.”  So, this story is meant for that larger audience, both followers and critical skeptics.

The parable is about a steward who had squandered his master’s money and was about to be fired.  He began to worry about his future without a job:  “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”  Was he a lazy and proud man?  Perhaps he was, but he was also shrewd.  He decided he needed friends, lots of them, who might welcome him into their homes when he was removed from his stewardship.  How could he get instant friends?  He visited his master’s debtors “one by one” and reduced their debts (a sure way to win friends and influence people, even in our day).  To them, of course, he immediately became a good guy.  Even his master, who got cheated out of some of his money, was impressed with the steward “for acting prudently.”

We know Jesus wasn’t encouraging us to be dishonest, as the steward was, so what was His point in telling this parable?  “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”  Jesus suggests that those who want to follow Him, or even those simply listening to Him, would do well to think about their personal eternal futures with the same prudence as the steward prepared for his temporal one.  How can that be accomplished?  “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”  Notice that Jesus is now addressing people in the crowd who, in one way or another, have ever been dishonest in how they acquired their money.  He is urging them to use that “dishonest wealth” in a way that will gain them virtue and salvation, a place among God’s friends in heaven.  Later in this Gospel, Jesus will have an opportunity to provide a living example of this in His encounter with Zaccheus, the tax collector (see 19:1-10).  Everyone knew that tax collectors profited from extorting money as they collected taxes.  When Jesus went into his house to visit him, a conversion took place:  “Zaccheus stood and said to the Lord, ‘The half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone, I restore it fourfold.’   And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house.’”  He was a man who used his “dishonest wealth” in exactly the way Jesus describes here.

In talking about how men get and use their money, Jesus reveals a profound truth:  “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones.”  Likewise, dishonesty in “small matters” means dishonesty in “great ones.”  Compared to our eternal future, our money is a “small matter.”  If we desire the treasure of eternal life with God, we will pay attention to honesty in all the details of our lives.  Living this way, we can be assured that God will entrust to us the pearl of great price, forgiveness and redemption in Christ Jesus, our inheritance as His children.  Then Jesus addresses again those who have gained “dishonest wealth”:  “If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?”  The untrustworthy eventually lose both their temporal and eternal treasure.

Now, Jesus gets to the real root of the problem all of us have with money.  It wants to master us, to enslave us.  We think we possess it, but it actually wants to possess us:  “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.”  It was this final statement that caused the Pharisees to scoff.  They were sure they could keep love of God and money in balance.  They did not believe their love of money could sabotage their relationship with God.

Do we?

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, help me stay strong against money’s seductive song, the constant music of our culture today.

First Reading (Read Amos 8:4-7)

The prophet, Amos, warned those with “dishonest wealth” in his day about the outcome of their treachery.  These people were ful

l of plans to make ever more money, even though it meant trampling the needy and destroying the poor.  Money had become their god, just as Jesus warned against in the Gospel.  In fact, they were impatient with the Jewish religious observances (“new moon” and “Sabbath”) that prohibited them from working and thus losing money.  They were so eaten up with love of money that they were willing to cheat and exploit “the lowly.”

What was their future with God going to be?  “Never will I forget a thing they have done!”

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, thank You for this frightening picture of what happens to us when love of money consumes us.  It is good medicine for me.

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Gayle Somers


Gayle Somers is a member of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Phoenix and has been writing and leading parish Bible studies since 1996. She is the author of three bible studies, Galatians: A New Kind of Freedom Defended (Basilica Press), Genesis: God and His Creation and Genesis: God and His Family (Emmaus Road Publishing). Gayle and her husband Gary reside in Phoenix and have three grown children.

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  • Dan

    I think another meaning might be gained from this parable. Parables were not just stories with a religious meaning-those are fables. Parables are meant to put us in a box-i.e. to make us feel uncomfortable and consider our responses deeper.

    In Christ’s time, it was normal for a person to “mark up” goods and money lending since Levitical law at the time of Christ forbade the paying of interest. A “shrewd” man would treat the original sum as principle and bill a “client” a rate which included an “up-charge” as we might call it. The challenge was to not be exorbitant with one’s charges, but reasonable. Not excessive. This servant (and the taxpayers when Jesus condemned them) were charging very high excess charges. When the servant then “wrote off” half or a third of the price-he was eliminating or reducing the amount he had, overcharged. This was why it was applicable to both disciples and Pharisees-it was a common practice which could be abused-primarily by “love of money” instead of prudent practices.

    In this light Christ puts all of us in “a box” to say-what are you doing with your worldly goods and money? Common response is to claim our things and money as something we have worked for instead as gifts to be appreciated. In putting these things first, Jesus is questioning just what kind of servant are you?

    It is, therefore, shrewd to recognize the sin and return to a more appropriate response to the gifts we have received.