Scripture: Lectionary 489. Romans 15:14-21. Psalm 98:1.2-3.3-4. Luke 16:1-8:
Jesus knew and dined with many sinners. He reached out to them as no one else ever did. We hear of them in the events of his life and in his words and his parables. Both servants and tax-collectors are mentioned in the parables and we have an example of a very clever servant who owed his master a great debt. He considered his plight and realized he could not solve this by begging nor could he do heavy work to compensate for such a great amount that he owed to his master.
We cannot fathom the meaning of most parable without knowing about the times in which he lived, that is, during the first century. Tax-collectors were under Roman control. Servants who took care of the properties of their masters were indebted to them. Certain ones knew how to work the system and take advantage for themselves. The one in today’s parable knew that this was the only way he could get out of his heavy debts. So he alters what others owe to him and does some favors for them by writing in excess what they paid for and thus could scrape off the addition to make enough revenue to pay his master! This was common practice among the servant and tax-collector types.
Jesus points out to his disciples how clever these worldly people are in comparison to those who are following Jesus in the way to the kingdom. They have difficulty in learning how to do such clever and creative ways to foster the message of the kingdom.
The point of the parable is only seen when we look at the background of the one who does this in the first century. Jesus uses his parable about the clever servant to teach his disciples lessons that will help them to have the same industriousness when it comes to the proclaiming of the kingdom of God.
Most readers of this parable are not happy with the parable for they see something deceitful in the cleverness of the man who wrote different bills for his customers. But the place where the parable breaks down, so to speak, is where we find offense in it. We are meant to learn how to be prudent and astute in the things of God but often are not. We could learn from the cleverness of the worldly how to have the same astuteness about God’s realm. After spending some time realizing that this is not about dishonesty we get to the point of the parable. Jesus shocks us into using our heads while forcing us to think outside the box.
We need to learn how to use our gifts and our creativity for the common good of the people we serve. Astuteness and prudence as well as careful planning help us to help others. To understand the message of the parable we need to listen to the Holy Spirit while discerning how to overcome the obstacles that prevent us from doing what is for the common good. Paradoxes and parables are part and parcel of the teaching method of Jesus. He forces us to think outside the box and get out of our own categories about what is right and what is wrong. Amen.
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.