A Parable of Crisis
In the gospel text of today we have a parable and several sayings all put together in one unit. I like to focus my reflections on the beginning parable, which is truly a puzzle.
This beginning pericope has been named by some NT commentators as ‘the parable of the unjust steward’; others have called it a ‘parable of crisis’ which is probably truer to Jesus’ intention in telling this parable. Jesus is less concerned with the unjust actions of the steward. In fact, Jesus’ focus, in telling the story, rests on the clever actions of the steward and not on the unjust ways of the steward. In verse 8 of the parable, Jesus goes so far as to have the master praise the steward: “And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.” The New American Bible calls the actions of the steward ‘prudent’; the Jerusalem Bible uses the word ‘astute’ and the NRSV commends the manager for acting ‘shrewdly’. It is interesting to note that the Greek word simply means wise. I like this canvas of images: the unjust steward is praised for his astuteness, his shrewdness, his prudence, his wisdom. And I would add his imagination! The steward or manager, after assessing his situation and finding himself in a pinch, i.e. jobless, makes a decisive choice–he will have his customers lessen the amount they have to pay so that he will be welcomed into their homes when he himself is in need. Indeed he is imaginative and shrewd!
Certainly Jesus in telling this parable is not exhorting us to be unjust. In focusing on the astuteness of the steward, what is he trying to convey? It seems to me that through this parable Jesus is exhorting his followers to be creative, imaginative, wise in situations of crisis and conflict. This creative, imaginative power is present within each of us, and it can be used in the service of good or for evil purposes, it can be used for just or for unjust activities. What is interesting to note about the steward is that he finds himself in a crisis and he struggles to know what to do…a creative thought comes to him and then he is decisive, not wavering, and acts!
The parable concludes with a shocking statement that seems to imply that those who do actions of injustice, i.e. ‘the children of this world’ are wiser than the ‘children of light’, i.e. those illumined by the consciousness of the gospel. What is it then that keeps wisdom and imagination imprisoned so that we seem not to have access to it when in a crisis situation? To be creative, to live wisely and imaginatively puts us at an uncertain, unknown edge…it asks courage, commitment to listen deep enough, to trust enough when we find ourselves paralyzed or stuck by whatever situation of conflict or crisis we are in. On the gospel way, Jesus wants his disciples to be as wise, as shrewd, as prudent, as astute as the unjust manager!
Jesus is the wisdom of God. Perhaps most important is that we have him in our hearts as the living source of God’s wisdom. If we were to read the gospels looking at how Jesus acts, reacts, teaches, I think we would be amazed at how he meets conflict and crisis events: he is shrewd, he is astute, he is prudent, he is clever, he is very wise, creative and imaginative.
Finally, in Jesus’ words: “See, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” The gospel way asks us, even demands of us to exercise wisdom and shrewdness in the difficult situations of our lives…and we have this reminder from the voice of Jesus’s Abba: “this is my beloved Son…listen to him…Indeed he will give us the word we need if we have enough faith and are ready to listen.
Sr Kathy DeVico