25th Sunday of the Year
For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.
Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues, and a very important virtue for living a good life. Without the virtue prudence, it is really impossible to acquire the virtues of justice, fortitude and temperance, and all of these virtues are critical for living a good life. For instance, regarding justice, a person needs to be prudent in order to be just, for justice requires the capacity to make sound practical judgments as to what is just and what is unjust. Without prudence, the will is blind and unable to choose the just with certitude. Good choices in matters of justice require foresight, good counsel, and sound judgment, all of which belong to the intellectual virtue of prudence. The great philosophers of Greece already understood the important role and the dignity of prudence. The Scriptures also understand this virtue, and they give us guidance that is far greater than that of the philosophers when it comes to prudence, for the Scriptures are truly the word of God.
The connection between the virtues of justice and prudence can be seen in a careful reading of today’s Scripture passages. The first reading from the prophet Amos enumerates a number of injustices and closes with a warning that God will never forget any of these injustices: “The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!” Prudence comes in here in an indirect way, because a prudent man will take this warning seriously and correct these injustices before the final judgment.
Then in the second reading of St. Paul to Timothy, he asked that prayers and supplications be offered for everyone including the pagan kings and authorities who rule over the Christian communities. Prudence comes in here when he gives the reason for praying for these authorities: so “that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” It’s very difficult to lead a full Christian life without a stable and tranquil society, and thus it is very hard to carry on the mission of preaching the saving Gospel to all men.
Where there is war and disorder and chaos, not only is the individual life upended, but the life of the community is seriously disrupted, and without the support of the community, the work of evangelization can be seriously crippled. God has willed that Christ, the sole mediator of salvation, and his gospel be proclaimed to all mankind, so that every man has an opportunity to be saved. Thus Christian prudence dictates that we pray for those in authority, even if they are pagans, because the well-being of the Christian community and its mission depends upon their rulings.
Finally, in today’s gospel Christ directly speaks about prudence and justice and their interconnection. We learn in this Gospel parable that there are two kinds of prudence in this world when it comes to the use of material goods, the ersatz prudence of the children of this world, and the true prudence of those whose true homeland is in the world to come. Those who make this world their final goal will develop a kind of street wise prudence, one that is strictly related to their well being in this world. It’s not really even the natural virtue of prudence but a poor imitation. On the other hand, those who understand this world to be but a temporary home will develop a higher prudence, a true Christain virtue, that enables them to make wise use of the goods of this world which will also 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, using the goods which were not his but at his disposal to secure his future well being after he was dismissed. The Lord then uses this example to make an important statement, or warning for his own followers: he warns that often his followers take less initiative in their dealings with their own kind, than the worldly do when dealing with their own kind.
In the parable, both the rich man and his property manager are worldly men, that is, men whose sole 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 dishonest 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 truly prudent by using the goods of this world in such a away as to secure their place in His Father’s House, just as this clever servant “prudently”used the worldly good of his master to secure himself a future in this world. Unfortunately, says Jesus, this is often not the case, and often his followers imprudently will use their worldly goods by using them with absolutely no reference to their future in the world to come, but only in relation to securing their well-being in this world. That is not Christian prudence, but mimics the kind of worldly prudence of the dishonest servant in the parable.
In effect Jesus teaches us to use our worldly goods, our mammon not only to take care of our own family and our personal needs, but also to use our wealth to take care of the poor, for their welfare. To dos so is not just charity but prudence as well, for then, when we die, these poor beneficiaries will welcome us into eternity and thank God with us forever. This “welcoming” implies that the poor will also intercede for us with God, and thus our generosity will be returned to us hundred fold when we render an account of our lives before the just and merciful judge.
Finally, Jesus teaches us that all earthly wealth is prudently to be seen as simply entrusted to us by God, to take care of our self, our family and, yes, the poor, His poor. He says, “If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?” The Christian believes that his wealth ultimately belongs to another, that is, to God who bestows it, and the Christian disciple also believes that God would have us use what ultimately belongs to Him to take care of the neighbor, especially the poor neighbor, who is loved by God and who is in desperate need. This is divine wisdom and prudence, and its inestimable reward is eternal joy in communion with God and with all those whom we truly loved and served here on earth and who will eternally love us in return. The true Christian virtue of prudence is based upon these fundamental beliefs and helps us to act accordingly. How much better both the rich and the poor would be in this world today, if such prudence was guiding the use of worldly wealth in our grasping human societies, rather than the prudence that most often rules, that of the clever and dishonst servant in the parable of Jesus.