The Parable of the Unjust Steward in which Jesus commends a crafty manager for playing fast and loose with his employer’s accounts has evoked occasional moral discussion over the centuries regarding Jesus’ apparent recommendation of dishonest behavior.
When the manager realizes that he is going to get the bounce, he adjusts the balances due on his master’s invoices so that his master’s various clients will look kindly upon him and possibly offer him employment when he is let go. Jesus applauds the man’s prudence and self-interest. And, more to the point, Jesus laments that the children of light, the believing community, the Christian Church, are no where nearly as aggressive in promoting the Gospel message as worldly society is in advancing its secular agenda. The secular world shames the believing world in its initiative, inventiveness and imagination.
The story of the unjust steward is an ideal example of the Jewish literary device known as the parable. A parable is not an allegory which is a device (sometimes in literature, sometimes in art) in which every detail symbolizes something and contributes to the meaning of the presentation. Plato’s allegory of the cave with its symbols of light, darkness, interior, exterior, vision, imagination, shadows, sun, etc., is a classical allegory. No word should be overlooked. A parable on the other hand has only one central purpose or point which all the other details serve. Jesus’ single point in the steward parable is the astuteness of the servant. The worker about to be terminated is not commended for any deviousness. Jesus is not recommending shady dealings. Jesus is endorsing shrewdness, prudence, and forethought. Readers should concentrate only on the central point, not on the gimmicks that Jesus employs to illustrate his point. Prudence not adjusted balances is Jesus’ only concern.
Jesus sadly compares the lethargy of believers with the assertiveness of non-believers. And the comparison grieves him. Clearly the Savior regrets the loss of initiative, the failure of ambition and the lack of objectives that he fears will characterize the Christian community in the centuries to come. Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus insists, “The Kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent bear it away.” Jesus knows that it will take a lot of energy, much vigor and unfailing determination to preach the Gospel to every creature. It’s not going to be easy, Jesus advises.
Down through the ages there have indeed been forceful Christians. St. Paul was never intimidated. St. Catherine of Siena was a pain in the papal neck. St. Joan of Arc pressured both French friends and English foes. St. Theresa of Avila was undaunted in her Carmelite renewal. St. Charles Borromeo was fearless facing his fellow bishops as well as the plague. The early Jesuits were a literal army of eager missionaries. Pius IX and Pius X pounded their pontifical fists more than once. Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa never minced their words.
The current generation is not exempt from challenges to the Gospel message. Some church leaders and some church members speak out regularly on the issues of the day. The place of religion in public life, regular Sabbath observance, blasphemy in the media, single parenthood, cohabitation, invalid marriages, divorce, homosexual marriage; child, elder, spouse and clergy abuse; pornography, urban violence, immigration, Islam, unemployment, military involvement. This is the stuff of headlines but more importantly it is the substance of daily life, yet one would never know that there are 63 million Roman Catholics in the United Sates of America. The secular voice, the unbelieving voice, the politically correct voice is much more audible in 21st century America than the muted chorus resulting from the ignorance or indifference or indolence of so many Catholics. Figure this out. The Roman Catholic American community comprises 21 percent of the American populace. The homosexual population constitutes two or three percent of the population, yet which group has their ideas, attitudes, opinions and stances inserted favorably into television programs, movies, mainstream media, op/ed pieces, and even tabloids?
The answer is sadly clear. Today Jesus reminds the Catholic world that it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Speak up!