After listening to Deacon George Canney’s homily on the Gospel this past weekend, I wanted to share some of the thoughts I had about the readings and Gospel.
All of the gospel commentaries I consulted this week had different things to say about our Gospel. I literally consulted nine gospel commentaries about today’s gospel.
The first thing they say is that this is one of the most difficult parables Jesus uses in the Gospel of Luke. It appears in a long line of parables that Luke uses, to place Jesus in the context of the greater society and the world of his day. Otherwise, Luke’s Gospel is simply a story about what Jesus said and did. Luke always has a purpose and today’s gospel parable is no exception.
There are several parables in the gospel dealing with how people behave or how they ought to behave when it comes to material possessions or money. The exact number of times the word “money” is used in the entire bible is probably between 100 and 150. Maybe a few more. However, things like wealth, possessions, greed, a money mindset, contentment with riches and investing are mentioned, perhaps, in the neighborhood over 2,300 times. Faith and Salvation are mentioned about forty times in the NT, depending on the words or situations, and even hell is mentioned 162 times, seventy by Jesus alone!
Jesus tells about thirty three parables in the Gospels. Eleven are about money and wealth and our actions around it. Jesus does this, not to condemn the people who have wealth, but to show his followers and others a range of behaviors to make a point.
The parable today about the Steward is hard to understand. This is a person who cheats his master, is dishonest with his clients and is shrewd in saving his own tragic demise. And then is praised for doing so. It confuses us today on how we should behave if we were to find ourselves in the same situation.
Most of the parables about money and wealth are very clearly understood by the poor and others in his audience, simply because they didn’t have money, wealth, or material possessions, and so they knew how very hard was for them to live in the world.
The parable doesn’t confuse the poor because they can laugh at the actions of a sinful man who uses his head to make things right with God. The Scribes and Pharisees get angry, because they see it as a criticism of wealth and riches, especially the kind of wealth they may have extorted from the simple people that surround Jesus.
The parables are usually centered on various types of people doing various types of things. Again two separate audiences: The poor and those connected to the land are actually the wisest and more experienced. The wealthy have lost their way. They have forgotten that everything they have is a gift from God. At first, they may have earned it by working hard and honestly; or perhaps they really did get it by cheating or stealing. Regardless of how they got it, they have forgotten who it belongs to. So Jesus’ stories present both dangers and opportunities to whomever he tells his parables.
We hear in Amos and other stories the thoughts of the dishonest wealthy: “We can’t wait until the weekend or Sabbath or Holy Day is over so we can go back to cheating our customers.” Then, there is the rich fool who stores everything in his brand new barns, built to hold his wealth, who hears God say “You fool. This very night your soul will be required of you.” Or, the rich young man who can’t follow Jesus – for Jesus says “Sell all you have and give to the poor and come and follow me,” and we never hear from him again.
These characters, though less frequent, don’t even compare to the parables we remember best: the Good Samaritan, who gives his money in charity to save another human being, the rich man and Lazarus, the wedding feasts, the parties that others hold because they find their lost sheep or their lost coins or a party for a son’s homecoming after squandering all his inheritance.
Believe it or not, money is not the most talked about thing in the Bible. Jesus constantly talks more about food and parties, or a situation where food and feasting is the main topic.
The presence and coming of the Kingdom of God is the central message of Jesus. The term “Kingdom of God” occurs four times in Matthew (12:28; 19:24; 21:31; 21:43), fourteen times in Mark, thirty-two times in Luke, twice in the Gospel of John (3:3, 5), six times in Acts, eight times in Paul, and once in Revelation (12:10). This is the real emphasis of Jesus’ parables.
Have no fear, the Bible never says that money is the root of all evil. 1 Timothy 6:10, says: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”
And so, sometimes the parables of Jesus might not be as clear as we would like them to be. But in the end it is our attitude and actions about wealth, money, charity and kindness to which we have to pay attention.
In the end, the best way to see how we should behave when money and wealth are involved is to seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. And whenever you can, follow the advice of Luke in Chapter 12:33:
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourselves with purses that will not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.”