9/19/04 – St. Henry Church - Deacon Jerry Franzen
Amos 8: 4-7 1 Timothy 2: 1-8 Luke 16: 1-13
*Donna McLean tells the story of shopping with her eight-year-old son who
spotted a toy that he wanted but did not have enough money to buy it.
He lacked a dollar.
Of course he asked his mother for the extra money.
Wanting to teach him some fiscal responsibility, she explained that
she couldn’t just give him the needed dollar.
He would have to wait until he had saved it.
In a brilliant display of resourcefulness, the boy reached in his mouth,
and to the astonishment of the onlookers,
he pulled out a loose baby tooth and gave it to his mother.
The tooth fairy is generous these days. He got the toy.
Today’s Gospel, the so-called parable of the unjust servant
and the associated collection of sayings,
is one that poses many questions to those who attempt to interpret it.
Chief among them is the question,
“Why does Jesus make the point that the master praised the squandering steward
after the steward has curried the favor of the debtors by reducing their debt?”
“And the master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently.”
It would seem that the steward was further shirking his duty
by not collecting the full measure of the debts,
and thus continuing to squander the master’s money.
Allow me to add a bit of information to the story
that might help to make some more sense of it.
One interpretation maintains that stewards
functioned somewhat like tax collectors in those days.
Tax collectors collected the debt of taxes
owed by the Jews to their Roman masters.
Tax collectors regularly added their fee to the tax bill;
this is how they made their salary.
Sometimes they added excessively large amounts to increase their salaries
and to thus unfairly tax the Jews.
Tax collectors were despised by the Jews,
not only because they collected tax for the Roman Emperor,
but also because they often cheated their fellow Jews.
Most probably the steward, who was squandering the master’s money,
was likewise looking out for himself.
The amounts owed by the debtors were probably inflated
by the steward, so that he could be sure to get his cut.
And, he might not have always been returning the master’s full cut to him.
This may be why he had been reported as squandering.
In this light, we can see the prudence in what the steward did.
It wasn’t just a matter of his resourcefulness
that he wanted to make some friends that might be able to help him later in life,
but it might also have been his resourcefulness
that led him to relinquish his fee by reducing the debts.
Maybe, just maybe, he truly deserved the acclamation that he was now prudent,
because he decided that he valued the love and compassion
he should have for the servants AND THEIR LOVE AND COMPASSION FOR HIM,
more than he valued his own desire for wealth.
Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues of the Church.
The four are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
The term cardinal comes from the Latin “cardo” meaning “hinge.”
On these virtues hinge all the other lesser virtues.
And prudence is called the “rudder” virtue, because it “steers” all the others.
To live a moral life one must know what is good AND
have the intelligent discernmentto translate
the general demands of morality into concrete actions.
That intelligent discernment and its translation to action is prudence.
Prudence requires really good thinking, darn good thinking.
St. Thomas Aquinas said that prudence is the virtue
which enables us to do the right thing at the right time.
The steward did the right thing at the right time,
both for the debtors and himself.
Because we squander the gifts God has given us, when we sin,
Jesus is teaching us that we must be prudent
like the steward who reduced the debts.
We must seek to do the right thing at the right time.
Fr, Lou Guntzelman of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati,
in a recent article listed some practices that can help us
to become more prudent.
I will mention four of them.
1. We must have the facts; we must inquire,
look at all sides of a situation.
The steward realized that there was more
than just his relationship with his master.
He knew he needed friends;he saw the bigger picture.
2. We must think. Reason deeply.
While emotion may play a part,
acting solely out of emotion can be dangerous.
We may not be accustomed to the level of deep thinking required for prudence.
We may be used to making decisions based on slogans,
impressions and “gut feelings.”
We must determine with good reasoning
what would be good for ourselves and for others.
We must discover what love demands, what authentically expresses love,
love of self and love of the other.
I believe the steward was not just looking out for himself,
acting out of the emotion of self preservation.
I believe that as he thought the situation through,
he found a way that his actions could also benefit others.
If we are faced with what to do after we have been hurt by another,
we must listen to reason not emotion.
Emotion leads us to retaliation.
Retaliation adulterates love. Forgiveness authenticates love,
love of the other person in our forgiveness of them,
and love of ourselves in removing that burden of the need for retaliation.
When we take this view, it becomes simply prudent to forgive.
3. Don’t let fear be your enemy.
Some act impulsively without deeply thinking something through
for fear that they will be mired in complexity.
“Just make the decision and get it over with.”
Or, some do not follow a reasoned approach,
for fear of being out of step with others.
I believe that most couples who decide to live together before marriage
make that decision without much serious thinking,
because they are fearful of what will happen to their relationship,
if they actually tried to deal with all of the complex issues
that are raised by seriously considering
all the implications of their cohabitation.
On the other hand some couples make this decision,
because they fear that other couples will wonder what is wrong with them.
4. When in doubt, seek advice.
When we are unsure about our capacity to make a decision,
we must be open to seeking out someone we can trust,
not to make the decision for us, but to give input AND
to provide the confidence that will help to validate our decision.
We must know the facts of the situation,
and the teachings of Jesus related to the situation,
and the teachings of the Church.
We must do some deep thinking;
take the reasoned approach, not the emotional approach.
This is how Jesus operated.
We might measure what we are about to do
against the question, “What would Jesus do?”
We must not let fear keep us from a decision, based on right reasoning.
Our faith in Jesus must be stronger than those fears.
If we need help, we must be open to seeking it,
either from those around us who can advise us, or from the Lord in prayer.
God wants us to be prudent,to make decisions that will ensure
that we do the right thing at the right time.
We cannot serve two masters: God and the world.
Some know only one master, the world.
It controls their decisions
and sadly they are often not the right decisions.
We know another master: God.
He has given each of us gifts, among them our intellect,
which we must use to make prudent decisions.
Each of us must look within ourselves,
know where those “little loose teeth” are so that we can pull them out
and use them at the right time.
A former Yale University chaplain once said,
“Christ came to take away our sins, not our minds.”
*Story taken from “Humor for Preaching and Teaching”
E. K. Rowell and B. L. Steffen Eds. Baker Books, Grand rapids MI, 1998 p 145