Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wiser than the sons of light.

This was the Gospel at last Friday's Mass:

Lk 16:1-8

Now He was also saying to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions.

"And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.'

"The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg.

'I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.'

"And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he began saying to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'

"And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.'

"Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'

"And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light."

It was the parable of the dishonest steward. As we stood listening to it, I thought, "You know, I don't think I've ever really understood what Jesus meant by that." Then we sat down and white-haired Fr. Antolini stood up, made his slow way to the pulpit, and in his thick Italian accent made it clear to me for the first time in my life.

It means we're not as wisely provident about our future spiritual happiness as worldly people are for their temporal welfare. Those who aren't concerned with God think about how best to obtain the possessions, pleasure, honor, happiness and so forth that they want in this world, and having made their calculations they proceed with their plans. But Christians, who know that there are far greater riches to be had, fail to take the obvious steps necessary to obtain them.

The corrupt steward used what he couldn't keep-- his master's money-- to obtain a lasting benefit-- the gratitude of his master's debtors. We also have plenty that can't be kept forever but can be given now for something eternal. We can give time to pray, give up tasty food and fast, give up convenience and serve others, give up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom ("He who is able to accept this should accept it"), give up all claim to ourselves and serve God. These sacrifices lead to much greater good both now and in eternity. We believe it but we don't do it. Jesus advised the rich young man, "Sell all you have and give your possessions to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow me." What an amazing invitation; what a promise and what an honor! The young man didn't take him up on it. Instead he went away sad.

But then there are those who seize the offer. In the 1950's a young man named Jim Elliot wrote in his journal, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." A few years later he gave his own life, martyred at age 28 by hostile Indians while he was a missionary in Ecuador. I wonder if he'd ever heard of St. Clare of Assisi, who in the 1200's left her castle home to live in poverty as a nun, and wrote a little poem about it:

What a great laudable exchange:
to leave the things of time for those of eternity,
to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth,
to receive the hundred-fold in place of one,
and to possess a blessed and eternal life.

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