25th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
This is a curious Gospel because unlike most parables like the Good Samaritan, the protagonist is not a heroic figure. In fact, he is a fairly pathetic one. The dishonest steward, the name gives away the story, is about to be sacked by his master “for squandering his property.” He is in desperate straits. He memorably says, “I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.” (I think I might adopt that as my motto.) He has only one plan at his disposal. He goes back to all the master’s creditors he has dealt with and has them lessen what they owe the Master. Whether it comes out of the steward’s take or the master’s is unclear. What is obvious is his motivation – trying to curry favor with the creditors so they will take him in after he is fired. Remarkably, the Master applauds the dishonest steward because “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” He gets credit for knowing how to play the game.
We all have to play the game to some degree. We all have to get along, to massage a system or do what is necessary to provide for our families. Yet, we should not confuse that with what is truly precious: relationships, peace and the truth. Pope Francis quotes St. John of the Cross in saying, “In the evening of our life, we will be judged on how we love.”
We need to determine what is mammon (the game) and what is true wealth. Mammon is often a substitute for money, but Jesus suggests in this Gospel that mammon may take the form of anything we serve other than God. How do we negotiate the difference between dishonest wealth (mammon) and true wealth (life and love)? I would suggest that we are not dealing with two different worlds unconnected and unaware of each other. Instead I believe we are looking at strata that lay over each other, each demanding our attention. We must always ask ourselves if the mammon is serving true wealth or is true wealth sacrificed in pursuit of the mammon.
Some examples of mammon versus true wealth might help illustrate the point. I would say that competition is mammon and cooperation is true wealth. The existence of the other always influences our lives. In a competitive world, the other’s success is a threat to us. If they get a better grade and the gaining of a promotion, something has been denied us and we are pitted or angry with the other. This makes us look at the other as an object, an obstacle rather than a brother or sister. The true wealth of cooperation is moving forward together as one people brought together by God. Delighting in one another’s successes and despairing of someone else’s loss rather than the other way around. True wealth lifts everyone and hopes for their best because those are the very elements of love.
Another example might be the values of popularity versus friendship. Popularity is often based on the idea of being perceived in the right way. And if that is your goal, you will make every effort to be thought of as correct, polished and calculated. But sometimes that is not what true friendship requires; in fact it calls us for us to get into the trenches, become involved intimately and put something at risk in every friendship that we have. The measure of friendship is not how many “friends” you have on Facebook (WHERE I AM KILLING IT) but who are you willing to sacrifice for, give to or as Jesus defined friendship, who will you lay down your life for. Friendship is a close and intimate business. It is not for the polished and calculating.
Even our spiritual life can become an arena for mammon and true wealth. I fall victim to that. I try to pray a certain amount of time each day. It is a good goal. But if something keep me from that goal, even if it is the stuff of ministry, I become extremely frustrated. That is because even our best aspirations can become mammon and the prayer is in service to my goals and not to the Lord. If you are frustrated by your prayer life, ask yourself whose expectations are you disappointing?
How can you tell if you are carrying the mantle of mammon or true wealth? I think freedom is the best way to know. If you are free to be the self that God called you to be; if you are free to be the best friend you can be; if you are free to love and serve God, then you are basking in true wealth. And what else will matter, what is worth measuring than how we have befriended, served and loved? Choose true wealth. Choose salvation in this life and the world to come.