Rom. 8:12-17; Lk. 16:1-9
This is one of the most difficult parables in the Gospels. It takes us aback that the dishonest servant could be commended. It begins to become clearer when we realize that in the ancient world, the slave, or the steward, had great discretionary power over his master’s goods. This steward, in a crisis, about to be let go, was decisive and resourceful, and the interpretative saying at the end of the Gospel makes sense, “make friends for yourself through the use of this world’s goods, so that when they fail you, you may have a lasting reception.”
The critical reality of our lives is that we were made for heaven. While we live in the world with all its demands and distractions, how intent are we upon our final end and purpose in life? God has given us all a portion of this world’s goods, but we know they are not an end in themselves. They cannot make us happy or fulfill us. We should use them to fulfill our purpose, according to our vocation and state in life, so that when they fail us, we will have a lasting reception with God. Our good works go with us. The point is well-taken.
There is yet another more subtle interpretation of this parable. There is no denying that a great disparity exists between what the master’s debtors owed and what they were forgiven from the master’s store. In fact, the disparity is purposely exaggerated. One hundred barrels of oil is a huge debt; who of us could use 100 barrels of oil in a lifetime? And 100 quarters of wheat is the yield of a hundred acres. In light of the Epistle, the parable is about God’s mercy. The master is the Father. The Lord is not the unjust steward, but the Just One: “Everything has been given over to me by my Father.” And we are debtors because of our sins. But not only debtors, sons and daughters, and heirs, as well, by the forgiveness of sins, whole and entire, writing off the debt through the cost of His Blood.
There is no parity between the measure of our sins and the infinite love and mercy of God, always willing and ready to forgive us. For this reason, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, reflecting on the passion of the Lord, recalls the good thief, crucified with Him, who for all his sins, in a single act of repentance, won redemption. Archbishop Sheen says of him in a wonderful turn of phrase, “The good thief stole heaven.”
So we must never be discouraged, and never lose faith, that while we live in the world with all its demands and distractions seeking our purpose in heaven’s end, that we have a Divine Steward of all the graces of God, who forgives the debt, not for Him, but for us, that we may have a lasting reception in heaven.