Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 6 November 2020, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.
The Dishonest Steward. Luke 16:1-8 [Please read the text].
This is a problematic passage to interpret. It starts off with the steward being denounced and ends with the same man being praised and in between we see some wheeling and dealing. This looks like a case for the Zondo Commission of Enquiry… but before it gets there let’s see what exactly is happening in the story.
Let’s dissect the actions of the steward who had just lost his job and now sees the need to make some friends. He starts off by taking stock of his abilities – or rather his inabilities –and sees that he is useless at manual work. He is not strong enough to dig and would be too ashamed to beg. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention and so he starts to win some of his associates onto his side so as to ensure some return. It is like the awarding of tenders by some State departments around the world.
Notice that he called the debtors in one by one. Some deals are best done in secret. From all the commentators, Fr Joseph Fitzmyer SJ offers a glimpse into the commercial trappings of the biblical world. The debtors were normally tenants working on the property of an absentee landlord. They paid not in cash but in kind. The steward too was not paid in cash. In fact he was not paid by the landlord at all. He was instead allowed to take a portion of what was paid. He could take half the proceeds of the oil and one fifth the measure of wheat. And in this passage these are amounts by which he asks the debtors to reduce the bills. In the end the master did not lose out at all. The debtors benefitted through altering their invoices and the steward lost his commission. But because of the way in which he engineered the whole episode by getting them to alter the invoices in secret, the debtors now owed him favours.
The point of a parable is to show some kind of comparison – and the point here is the zeal with which the steward went about doing things. In his poem “The Second Coming” William Butler Yeats, looking at the death and destruction brought about by the first world war, declared that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” And this is exactly the point of this passage. If Christians responded to the call of Christ in the same way robbers conduct the dirty business of robbing, we will have a different world. If gangs members show more allegiance to their families than they do to their gangs we will have a different type of world. The litany is endless. On Wednesday of last week Archbishop Brislin, using the example of Simon the Zealot, invited us to show more enthusiasm for environmental justice and the sacrificial, Christ-like love of the neighbour. Let us embrace this call so that we too may be filled with “passionate intensity” for the things of Christ.
Let us pray: Father send us your Holy Spirit to help us serve the Gospel with renewed energy each day. We ask for the grace to start this in our homes and families and then, to share it with others. Help us to show zeal for the Gospel. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bishop Sylvester David OMI
VG: Archdiocese of Cape Town