25tth Sunday of the Year C (19 Sep 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Parable of Compassion—Yet Again
Scripture is important for our lives even as it is the charter of the church of Jesus in every age. Yet we easily forget how fragile a record God’s word is. God’s word, God’s communication, is clothed in human words, human words of a time, place and culture far different from ours. That temporal, local and cultural distance makes the scriptural record of God’s communication so fragile. Our distance from our Declaration of Independence and other founding documents makes them fragile but not as fragile as scripture.
Our modern ways of understanding often blur the scriptural record instead of allowing us to receive clearly God’s communication through it. Let me guide you in ancient Palestinian agricultural economics so we may appreciate Jesus’ message in his parable confusing to our ears.
Luke recalled that not only did God have particular concern for the poor—a lasting place in God’s heart as Amos made clear; Luke remembered Jesus, the compassion of God in flesh and blood, lived the divine concern among people and invited them to make the ancient concern ever new. Jesus invites us through his spirit. That’s the starting point our liturgy offers.
How to approach Jesus’ parable Luke saved for us? If we recall that in Jesus’ lost-and-found parables before today’s the “finding” characters symbolized God’s desire to save the lost, we may notice the compassion of the master of the steward: he dismissed the steward, he did not fine or imprison him. We get distracted from that crucial fact by the behavior of the squandering steward, who received his master’s praise: the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. What!
In the 1st-Century Palestinian economy people rented from those who owned and controlled the land. Landowners employed agents who managed the flow of produce. Each steward received a fee for each transaction—here olive oil and wheat—and the fees were recorded in a public record. The public records, which included the fees they needed to pay stewards, helped people shop for good renting prices. Stewards could not extort fees higher than the public records showed. The steward in Jesus’ parable may have done that, what people saw was extortion or other impropriety and reported to the landowner: What is this I hear about you? ...you can no longer be my steward.
Before word traveled farther—no phones, no text messages or emails there and then—the steward had some renters awaiting him adjust their fees payable in olive oil and wheat in their favor. That meant that the landowner would be short produce for the season. It also meant he found himself in a bind. The renters were rejoicing at the landowner’s generosity: he had lowered their fees! If he dissolved the contract, he would set his renters against him. If he accepted his agricultural shortage, he would increase his honor—more valuable than money in 1st-Century Palestine. The steward’s action magnified his master’s honor before all. For an increase in honor did the master praise the steward. He was already honorable because he had only dismissed his steward, instead of fining or imprisoning him.
God deals with us graciously, too. All of us know we have overstepped our bounds at one time or another. God continued to act graciously toward us when we did. If God is openhearted with us, Jesus encourages us to be openhearted and openhanded with one another. Money is necessary—it was for Jesus, too—yet do we give it undue value? Does it grip our honor so that we lose our freedom with it? Do we hold money and possessions so dear that we idolize them? Do we serve things rather than put them to good, honorable use? If a squandering steward did that, hope exists for you and me. The parable reminds us our Creator and Redeemer trusts us to spread God’s honor far and wide. That is our Catholic devotion1 and dignity.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, first be aware of giving yourself to the Trinity. Ask your patron saint to present you to Jesus. In your words speak with Jesus: praise him for creating you; always seeking and finding you; and presenting you to his Father; ask Jesus for the grace to be openhearted to the ways Jesus invites you to be his disciple and to continue to be his trustworthy disciple and friend for the sake of the world. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words, give us this day, encourage us to remember that much of what we have is more than sufficient—even surplus.
- More than a truth devotion remains a way of life as well as the mystery of risen Jesus (1Timothy 3.16), who nourishes and sustains each disciple, who lives his way.