But long before he was crucified, Jesus practiced and shared with others this love, this compassion, which was the source of his many Spirit-touched charisms: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, preaching the message of his Father’s kingdom which he described most often through the use of concrete, earthy images and comparisons, so as to convey that the Kingdom of his Father is here and now active, present, and fruit-bearing—for example, as he does in today’s passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke.
In an effort to inspire his followers to be as prudent—that is, to show careful or good judgment—about the Father’s Kingdom, in matters of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, as some people are with money, Jesus tells the parable of the steward who is accused by his master of squandering his property, that is, his wealth, and orders the steward to prepare an account of his stewardship, for he means immediately to dismiss him.
That steward, to save himself from a life of destitution and suffering, from hunger and poverty, does not panic, instead he applies logic to his problem and comes up with the shrewd idea of reducing the debts of those who owe money to his master, and presents his master with such a sudden influx of cash, that the master, delighted, lets him off without a punishment, and even praises him for showing such prudence in matters of money: In other words, for applying creativity when the steward needed it most.
So what is Jesus saying to us here? That we should be so cunning with money, with our wealth as the steward was with his master’s money? In a manner of speaking, yes, and it is the first of three moral pronouncements that Jesus makes about the ethical use of wealth: Jesus says that the most creative thing we can do with our money is to bless others with it, by giving it to those who need food, clothing, employment, education, and medical attention. Those blessed by our acts of generosity will then see us home, Jesus says, into the Kingdom of God, when our life here on earth is over.
In his second moral pronouncement upon the ethical use of money, Jesus makes it quite clear that if we are not trustworthy with earthly wealth, that is, if we have not managed our wealth, our money, our possessions, with the clear knowledge that it is all to be used in the service of God, for the greater glory and honor of God, then how can we be trusted with “true wealth,” that is, how can God the Father give us his wealth: How can God give us God, how can God, then, give us his Abundance, his Abundant Love, his Christ, His Kingdom?
The third, and the most famous, and perhaps the most ignored, of Jesus’ pronouncements on the ethical use and distribution of wealth is the last one. Jesus does not mince on his words; Jesus flat out, clearly and passionately says it: “No servant can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
We know what Jesus means by this pronouncement: Wealth must not, under any circumstances, ever take the rightful place of God at the center of our lives. Neither money, nor the resources that money often buys us, must become an idol. We must not transfer to worldly wealth, worldly resources, the worship that is owed to God, that only God, Creator, Redeemer of the world, deserves from us.
None other than St. John Paul II taught that even countries and institutions within countries are to be held accountable for practicing ethical wealth management and distribution of resources so that the neediest among us all can live their lives instead of being condemned to lives of virtual slavery: lives of never having enough to eat, nor enough shelter. So we see that Jesus’ teaching on the proper, ethical, compassionate use of money, wealth, and resources can be, and should be, applied on a global scale. What God has given us, is in turn to be given, that is, distributed to the poor who are most in need.
May God who has blessed us, and our great nation, who has given us work, and the fruits of that labor, also move us to share what we have, so that all people, the young and the old, the hungry, the asylum seekers, can finally have what they deserve and need, what we have in abundance.