Pastoral Message – September 18, 2022
“The sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.”
When our son was young, he was generally a “good kid” but, every now and then, he would do or say something that needed some “corrective action.” On a few of those occasions, when my wife and I were alone, we would commend his “cleverness” even though we properly punished him for his misguided actions.
Initially, this week’s Gospel appears to portray a similar situation. Jesus tells us that a rich man commends his dishonest servant for being clever in his attempt to cheat the master and to protect himself. Jesus appears to be suggesting that the steward had done something commendable when he had acted with evil intent and had stolen from his master. While bible scholars differ on exactly what’s going on here, there is a very sound message that is not often received when the passage is read quickly or casually.
The parable only makes sense if we reject an “easy” and, therefore, popular interpretation of the parable. For instance, it is tempting to assume that the master in the parable is God. However, I would argue that there is little likelihood that Jesus would put God in the position of commending dishonesty. Instead, it is far more likely, in my opinion, that Jesus is putting the steward, the master, and the debtors in the same category – sons of this age. The master is no better or more honest than the steward or the debtors. They are all dishonest and they all place their love of money above all else. The master commended his steward’s shrewdness because he knew that he would have done the same thing in the same circumstances. We generally do not praise what we would not do, or wish we could have done. Once we accept this approach, it is much easier to make sense of the both the parable and the lesson that Jesus teaches.
The steward was cheating the master long before it came to his master’s attention. When his master told him that he was to be removed from his position, he decided to make one final use of his position to provide for his needs far into the future. The steward was not just unrighteous as a person, he was unfaithful as a steward and breached the sacred trust of his position. This unfaithfulness is what necessitated his shrewdness in preparing for his future. Every indication points to the fact that the allegations against the steward (squandering his possessions) were accurate. When he was confronted by his master, the steward did not apologize or beg for mercy. Instead, he only became more shrewd in doing evil. Because the steward’s attitudes and actions were all motivated by self-interest, he didn’t care whether he hurt his master or the innocent debtors who he convinced to join him in his evil actions. It is inconceivable that the rich man’s debtors were not co-conspirators with the steward. They knew what they were doing. Thus, the steward, the master and the debtors were all united by their greed.
The unrighteous steward, his master, and the debtors were members of the group that our Lord characterized as “the sons of this age.” The expression, “it takes one to know one” fits here. The master could recognize and appreciate “shrewdness” because he valued it and he practiced it, and as such he was “one” with his steward. The debtors were also grateful to and one with the steward. None of them could be called “sons of light.” They did not know God—they were unbelievers. Jesus tells us that these men are typical of the values, conduct, and commendation of an unbelieving generation. Jesus’ words of explanation are a description of how wicked men think and act, but not a commendation of this nor a recommendation of it to the saints. Jesus is telling a story that describes the skill and focus with unbelievers work within their generation to make money, and to look out for themselves. The unbelieving master, his steward, and his debtors may commend shrewdness, but God condemns it.
What God does appreciate, however, is the persistence and “cleverness” of the “sons of this age.” In short, they know how to get things done. They are relentless in their pursuit of their goals, even when those goals are not remotely commendable. We can learn something from this persistence as we pursue and share our faith. Just as the “sons of this age” stop at nothing to protect their own self- interests, we can be bolder and more driven to share the “light” with and to inspire those whom we encounter. We can be more “clever” and courageous in speaking up for justice and righteousness.
A faithful steward serves God’s interests, man’s interests, and our own, all at the same time. Faithful stewards gain, but not at the expense of anyone. Faithful stewards are obedient and honoring to God, they pursue the best interest of their fellow men (what is more in men’s best interest than guiding them to their eternal salvation?), and at the same time they prepare heaven for themselves. Everybody wins. What a difference!