The parable of The Dishonest Steward is a difficult one. However, although it is omitted from the short version of this past Sunday’s gospel reading, it has much to teach us about relationships. Really?! Doesn’t the dishonest steward just cozy up to his master’s debtors with more dishonesty? Let’s take a look.
The Context. This parable has to be understood in the light of the Palestinian custom of stewards acting on behalf of their masters. It was common practice for such stewards to charge extra interest, which they would pocket themselves. When the steward in the parable had the debtors write new notes, these reflected only the real amount they owed. The master commended him for treating the debtors fairly.
The Wake-Up Call. The steward was about to be fired, and he had one final chance to secure his future before it happened. This called for drastic, decisive action on his part. So, he took steps to care for the one thing that would endure after his dismissal, his relationships with his master’s debtors. Like many other parables, Jesus is teaching about the spiritual order by analogy; he often used matters of financial or physical welfare with which his listeners would have been familiar.
The Lesson. How do we know what to do with what we have? We don’t if we lose your soul; see the first reading from Amos. Our soul, the spiritual dimension of our person, links us to God. That link, that relationship, must inform everything we do. In the gospel, the steward wisely took action to maintain the relationships that would sustain him and ensure his future. Just so, our relationship with God sustains us. Are we convinced that a threat to that relationship (our spiritual welfare) is just as grave as a threat to our financial or physical welfare? Are we willing to take action?
Catholicism 101. The master commends the steward’s prudence, but what is prudence really? Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues, the others being justice, fortitude, and temperance. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that prudence is “right reason in action.” Essentially, prudence sets the boundaries for applying the other virtues in our lives. For example, fortitude helps us conquer fear; however, it would be foolish to disregard every danger. Prudence allows us to determine when to charge forward and when to “live to fight another day.”