The Parable of the Unjust Steward and a Disposition of Humility

The Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16, 1-13) presents us with some rather unedifying characters. In summary, the parable is about a rich man calling upon his steward to release him for mismanagement. Since a steward is someone who manages another’s resources, this is a very serious accusation, even if it is not necessarily fraud. In fact, since it is not an accusation of fraud, the steward has some time to manage a few transactions and make up for his mismanagement. The steward shrewdly makes deals behind his boss’s back. When the boss discovers this, he commends the steward for his shrewdness.

Our Lord summarizes the point of the lesson: “For the sons of this world are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). This contrast between the unbelieving sons of this world and the believing sons of God could not be clearer. The problem is that shrewdness usually applies to the unbelievers and not to believers. They can easily maneuver themselves in this world, while believers cannot maneuver themselves neither in this world nor the next, and it should be the next world for which they concern themselves!

Our Lord encourages us to be generous with our gifts in this life so that in the life to come we may be received “into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). This is very much in line with what he said earlier in the Sermon on the Mount about the treasures we should accumulate in heaven. (cf. Mt. 6:19-21) We do not possess the corporal, material, and spiritual goods God has given to us. We administer them. One day, the Master will come to each one of us asking us how we managed with the gifts He gave to us. This is clear in many parables which Our Lord shares with us. How did we use our mouths, eyes, and hands? How did we use our bodies in general? How did we use our minds, our faculties of intellect and will? How did we use the gifts of the theological virtues, the infused virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit? For all of this we shall have to answer one day, and let us not forget that the personal judgment will extend to the universal judgment, when the very effects of our works, of our correspondence with the graces of God, will be made known. I think of this every time I celebrate Mass in a convent established 310 years after the death of St. Francis. That convent, though not directly established by him, is indirectly a fruit of his charism, of the Franciscans that came of his faithful work to God and His calling.

All of this shows us that we must have a certain disposition to God in order to permit the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, i.e., in the Church. We have to be generous, yet detached, and humble. In fact, to the vigilance of God we find a humble man to correspond. What is humility but the truth and a disposition of being grounded in reality? The very etymology of the word points to the ground, in fact.

One image comes to mind from the defense of human life from conception to natural death: the umbilical cord. As a baby depends on the mother in the womb, we depend on God for everything. In effect, earthly life is an embryonal life that prepares us for birth into eternal life. Humility is a very essential disposition and virtue for earthly life. It is a virtue that consists in our vigilance vis-à-vis our rapport with God. According to St. Benedict, it is the end for which we live our earthly life.

St. Benedict uses the image of Jacob’s ladder to elaborate the discourse on humility. This dream is about the bond Jacob has with God the Father. This is going to be more elaborate with Our Lord Jesus, only stressing further the relation that exists between realism and mediation in humility itself. A humble person is realistic and is therefore a mediator between realities: the human and the divine. Humility permits us to grow in our humanity, conforming us to our nature, allowing us to live better our earthly existence but allows directing us to our heavenly home.

One discovers that to engage oneself in the virtue of humility as a disposition for all that we do is to engage oneself in the most important war of one’s life. Jacob’s Ladder recalls this terrible combat between the demons and God. They demand their rights, their independence, and basically their autonomy from God. This is contrasted with the angels and the saints who humbly bind themselves to God and to His Divine Word as a baby binds himself to his mother in the womb by way of an umbilical cord. The only difference between them and the baby is that they willingly do so. They choose to do so. They are free to do so, and in this freedom they find their true excellence because they find themselves in God their Father and Creator.

It is by the Word that Catholic Civilization was formed. Fidelity to the Word has made it the most perfect of societies. To deny this is to be proudly against the Word and the sanctifying and perfecting action of the Holy Spirit in the History of the Church. Let us not forget that while the Word enters the intellect, it is the Spirit that enters the will and the heart. It is the Spirit that has guided the hearts of the saints throughout Church history, from the Apostles at Pentecost onwards. To deny the inspirations of their work, it is to deny their collaboration with God, in turn to deny the work of God throughout history. Such a denial can only be fruit of pride, even if it claims to be humble as it places what the Church has done on the same level as that which the unbelievers have done. One comes from supernatural inspiration and nourishes natural desires. The other comes from natural desire alone, and it is evident when one sees it. There are no pagan religions, after all, that could consider the value of the Passion of the Son of God in His human nature.

We need to be grateful to Our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the angels and saints, all mediators in the Mediator between us and God. They are true bonds between us and our eternal life, the true life that we await like babies in the maternal womb of this earthly life. Honoring Our Heavenly Father and the genealogy of our past—in the Faith of our fathers and mothers—that goes with such honor is exactly what we need today in this confused, fractured, and dying society if we want to revival. We do not need cancel culture to remedy our problems. We need to honor our culture, to understand where we come from to know who we are and where we are going. Only then will we be wise, and not just shrewd, stewards of the graces which God has given us. Only then will we be happy with the rewards of eternal life.

Photo: Parable of the Unjust Steward by A.N. Mironov

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Fr. Francesco Giordano, STD is Director of Human Life International’s Rome Office and a diocesan priest and professor in Rome, Italy, currently teaching at both the Angelicum and The Catholic University of America.

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