Friday, November 6, 2009

The People Of This World Are More Astute Than The People Of The Light.

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (15:14-21):

Paul calls the Christians in Rome his brothers. He is convinced that they are good, knowledgeable, and competent to instruct one another. Now he is writing to them rather boldly in some respects, because of the grace God has given him, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, with the mission of performing priestly service by proclaiming the Gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified in the Holy Spirit.

Paul has reason to be proud of the work he has performed in God’s service. Yet he will not speak of what he has accomplished except what Christ has accomplished through him: leading the Gentiles to obey God, by the power of signs and wonders, and with the power of the Spirit. He has proclaimed the gospel fully, from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum (a region that includes parts of Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Croatia, today). It has always been Paul’s ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not know, so that he would not be building on someone else’s foundations, citing the Prophet Isaiah: "Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand." (Isaiah 52:15).

Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (16:1-8):

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: There was a rich man who received complaints about his property manager, accusing the manager of squandering the property. So he sent for him, and told him: “What is this I been hearing? Furnish me a full account of your management, since you cannot be manager here any longer.”

The manager said to himself, “What am I going to do now that my employer is letting me go? I am not strong enough to dig, and too proud to beg. I know what I have to do to make sure that when I leave, there will be people to give me house and home.”

So he called in his master’s debtors one by one. He asked the first, “How much do you own my master?” “A thousand gallons of oil”, the man replied. The manager told him, “Here is your account. Sit down, make it five hundred, and be quick about it!”

Then he said to another, “And you, how much do you owe?” “A thousand bushels of wheat”, he replied. He was told, “Take your account and make it eight hundred.”

The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. The people of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than the people of the light.”

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From time immemorial, commentators have been puzzled by this parable. It is not a very edifying story. All of the characters seem to be rather shady. “Why did the Lord Jesus Christ present this parable to us?” asked Saint Augustine. “Surely he did not approve of the dishonest servant who cheated his master, stole from him, and did not make it up out of his own pocket. On top of that, he caused his master even further loss so that he could build himself a quiet and secure nest after he lost his job. Why did our Lord set this story before us?”

With typical insight, Augustine hit the point: “It is not because the servant cheated, but because he was astute in exercising foresight for the future.” This is not an allegory, but a parable. An allegory has several points of application; a parable, only one.

Foresight and astuteness are not the most noble of virtues. Astuteness barely makes it as a virtue. "Astute" falls into the same category as words like shrewd, crafty, wily and cunning. It is concerned mainly with one’s own self-interest as the parable well illustrates. It is a virtue that suits “the people of this world”, but what positive value does it offer to “the people of the light”? How are we to be “astute” in our life as Christians?

A successful farmer once said that the secret of his prosperity was attention to detail. I think this needs further explanation. If “attention to detail” meant merely attention to small things, and bigger things were left untended, he would not have been a success. In fact, the farmer was able to take significant business risks, to “look at the big picture”. But in all things, big and small alike, he looked carefully at the details. This was not only his “business plan”, it was the way his mind worked all the time.

This is a lesson we can take with us. If the farmer ran his business in the way many people run their lives, he would have long since gone bankrupt, his livestock dead, and farmland overgrown with weeds and brambles. If a farmer doesn’t plant crops in his fields, that doesn’t mean that nothing will grow there. Nature is prodigal, but nature is untamed. All sorts of things will grow, but none of them will be edible or saleable.

Likewise, something is always growing in my life. Life never comes to a stop. If I give up the practice of my faith, then the ground of my being will be thrown open to all the bad seed that comes blowing in the wind.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

I wonder if the boss decided this manager was too astute to lose. He just had to pay him enough money to buy his loyalty. This is why bankers are paid so much.

This reminds me of the notes you wrote about the lost coin. That coin will be our salvation. It's in our own interest to look after it.