In the beginning

Column: Can we be trusted with true wealth?

by Father Mike Stubbs

First, the wife met with me. She poured out her heart, telling me how miserable she was in her marriage, putting all the blame on her husband.

Then, the husband met with me. He showed me a completely different picture. It was as though they were not talking about the same marriage at all.

Which one was I to believe, the wife or the husband?

The parable in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 16:1-13, poses a similar problem: When the so-called dishonest steward partially forgives the debts of his master’s debtors, does that action serve as yet another example of how the steward has squandered his master’s property? Does the master praise the steward for his initiative and shrewdness, despite his dishonesty?

Or is it the other way around? Is the master dishonest in charging exorbitant interest, and the steward, in reducing the amount of interest, remaining faithful to the law of God which prohibits usury?

In other words, the steward realizes that he is about to be fired and has nothing to lose, so he might as well be honest and generous to the debtors. Partially forgiving their debts, then, does not represent a selfish concern about his own future.

Instead, it is because he has no future.

In that case, the steward’s imagined interior conversation reflects the point of view of the master, and not the steward’s own state of mind: “What shall I do? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.”

Who is dishonest, the steward or the master? Who can we trust? That makes all the difference in the world in interpreting this parable.

The Gospel follows the parable with the teaching of Jesus, also on the use of wealth. Interestingly enough, it describes wealth as dishonest: “Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth.”

Ordinarily, if we identify wealth as dishonest, we mean that it has been acquired by immoral means. But that is not what the Gospel intends to say. The Greek word can also be translated as “wicked, unrighteous.” In combination with the word “wealth,” it connotes roughly the same as the English phrase, “filthy lucre.” It suggests a disparaging attitude toward money, the suspicion toward material wealth that marks the Gospel of Luke.

The translation as “dishonest wealth” strikes me as especially appropriate since the passage in question explores the issue of trustworthiness, of deceptiveness and truth-telling: “If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?” True wealth consists of spiritual treasure, while material wealth is deceptive. It tricks people into believing that it is worth more than it is. Gold and silver glitter, beguile the eye, and stir the heart to greed. In that way, it is dishonest wealth. It lies.

In contrast, the Gospel offers us the spiritual treasures of Christ. That is the true wealth that will bring us into the eternal dwellings of heaven. That is the only wealth worth having, according to Luke.

About the author

Fr. Mike Stubbs

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