25th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. Luke 16:8
There are two kinds of wisdom in this world when it comes to the use of material goods, the wisdom of the children of this world, and the wisdom of those whose true homeland is in the world to come. Those who make this world their final end will develop a wisdom strictly related to their well being in this world. Those who see this world as but a temporary home will develop a higher wisdom that enables them to make use of the goods of this world to secure their well-being in the world to come.
Our Lord uses the Gospel parable as example of worldly wisdom, where the crafty steward is praised by his master for being a clever servant by using the goods which were at his disposal to secure his future well being after he was dismissed. The Lord on the other hand uses this example to make an important statement about his own followers, that often they take less initiative in their dealings with their own kind, than the worldly do in dealing with their own kind.
In the parable, both the rich man and his property manager are worldly men, that is, men whose goal in life is to be as comfortable and well off in this world as they possibly can. Because the rich man shares this worldliness with his servant, he can appreciate the cleverness and enterprise of the servant who used his authority over his master’s property to secure a place for himself once he was dismissed.
Our Lord’s point in this parable is clearly that his followers should be as wise in using the goods of this world for securing their place in His Father’s House, as this clever servant was in securing himself a future in this world. Unfortunately, says Jesus, this is often not the case, and his followers often use their worldly goods with no reference to their future in the world to come, but only in relation to securing their well-being in this world.
The first reading gives us an example of the way an outwardly religious man often chooses to live in this world, as if it were his final dwelling place. He can’t wait until the Sabbath is over to get back to buying and selling, and his money grubbing leads him to cheating at times, skimming profits, and turning poor workers into slaves. It went on then; it goes on today, as the prophet Qoheleth says, “Nothing is new under the sun.” Worldly wisdom always looks out for number one.
But God’s wisdom is quite different, for it teaches us to look out for the neighbor as we would hope the neighbor would look out for us. The worldly steward makes friends for himself by skimming the Master’s wealth, but he makes friends for himself solely to take care of himself, to make sure number one will have a good future.
Jesus turns this wisdom in another direction. He says use your worldly mammon – honestly gotten and not dishonestly gotten like the theft of the steward in the parable – to take care of the poor, for their sake, and when you die, they will welcome you into eternity and thank you forever. In other words, recognize that wealth cannot save your life, that one day your mammon will no longer be able to buy you more time. But in eternity it will be repaid forever by the friends you make by helping them in their earthly poverty with your wealth.
Jesus then goes on to teach us that all earthly wealth is simply entrusted to us by God to take care of ourselves, our family and the poor. He says, “If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?” Our wealth belongs to another, to God who bestows it, and God would have us use what ultimately belongs to Him to take care of my neighbor, who is loved by God and who is in desperate need. This is divine wisdom and its reward is eternal joy in communion with God and with all those whom we love here on earth and who love us in return.
In taking care of the temporal needs of the poor, we become richer in friends and richer in love, not just in this world, but in Heaven forever. On the other hand, when we choose to use the goods of this world just to take care of ourselves and those close to us, then we become narrow in friendship and poorer in love, in this world as well as in eternity. The true wealth Jesus speaks about is the wealth of divine love and friendship, above all with God, but also with neighbors. If I hoard the mammon of this world, I become poor in my humanity and most likely dead in relation to God. For it is true and definitive that “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”