I saw a sign in an office that said, “If it were not for the last minute, nothing would get done!” Sometimes we need a “deadline” to get us motivated. I find for example, if I have a totally free Saturday and have five hours to write my homily, it will take me five hours. If I have a wedding or a funeral or other appointments and only have two hours free, I can get it done in two hours, and it is usually no worse than the homily that took five hours to write. Without the deadline, I essentially squandered three hours of time.
It is only when the steward realized that his time of service was coming to an end that he began to make provisions for his future. Only then did he begin to act prudently, i.e., look where he was headed, discern what what was in his best interest, and take action to get there. Setting clear goals as well as being aware of what will happen to us if we do nothing – the negative consequences that will follow – are prudent motivators for action in our worldly lives. People who don’t look ahead and don’t think about the consequences of their actions or lack of action in effect squander or waste their lives. They are not being responsible for their own life. Jesus uses the example of the “dishonest steward” to hold up not his dishonesty (the steward in fact cheats his master as a means of trying to win favor with his master’s debtors when he has to look for a new job), but that he acted prudently in the face of his impending judgment. The point Jesus is making is that if the dishonest steward, when asked to give an account, is prudent enough to plan his earthly future so as to receive a welcome in people’s homes, how much more ought the “faithful and prudent steward of the Lord” who will have to give an account to God, prudently plan for a heavenly future so as to be welcomed into eternal dwellings? It seems, Jesus is warning, that the “children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation” – things of this world or things this age – than the “children of light” are with dealing with what has been entrusted to them by God, i.e., what matters for the age to come. We may do a good job at planning for our financial future – looking ahead to see that we are saving enough to live comfortably in retirement (when our work is over), but does what we are doing “matter to God”? Is what we are seeking “an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy” ? (12:33). Jesus warns about putting our trust in things that will not last – material things. This is what he means by “dishonest wealth” – it is a lie to hope in these things – these things that will not save us. There is always the temptation to trust that these things will make us happy, but they always fail to satisfy. If we put our hope in a thing, it sooner or later becomes our master – the driver of our life. Money, pleasure, fame or reputation – we can easily become possessed or enslaved by these things. This turn-about begins to occur when we see things as our own possessions instead of gifts from God. “This is mine. I earned this. I deserve this…” We make ourselves out as the owner instead of the steward of our life and the gifts we’ve been given. When read it in the context of Jesus’ teaching on the proper use of wealth, if we are serving God and not mammon, the parable of the dishonest steward, in a paradoxical way, shows us how to live. God wants us freely to share the riches he has entrusted to us. If we are unattached to things, when the Lord is the one in whom we put our trust, we can freely give our wealth away. What we have been given, we have been given to share. He wants us, also, to be instruments of forgiveness – to forgive the debts of others.
We don’t know when our service or stewardship will end, but we will have to give an account to God when it does. The prudent servant examines his life in the light of eternity every day, and, with God’s grace, makes adjustments accordingly. God has entrusted us with small things, but how we deal with even the small things reveals our relationship with God. How can we be more prudent? We can do a daily examination of conscience as part of our prayers before bed – reviewing our day with the Lord and looking at even the little things in his light. Where was I responding to Christ’s invitation to serve him vs. where did I squander that invitation? This prayer keeps us focussed on Christ as our true good and opens us up to ask for the grace to move in the right direction. A wise man told me recently, “Live every day as if it is your last, but learn every day as if you were going to live forever.” The Lord wants to teach us something every day that brings us closer to eternity – that will serve us for eternal life. Let’s be prudent stewards with the life God has entrusted to us.