The reading for Sunday, October 19:
Ah, the parable of the unjust steward, the dishonest manager. This parable may be one of the toughest to understand. Are we to understand this parable as a pro-cheating text? It seems that this tale is one of several types of unjustness, and it's hard to sort it all out. Let's try.
Much like the parable of the Prodigal Son, which sends up wails of protests about unfair treatment of undeserving children, this text makes one want to wail at first reading. There's the master, who believes the charges brought up against his steward, who seems prepared to dismiss him, based on those charges--let us remember that the charges may be false.
But the behavior of the steward seems slimy too; accused of unethical behavior, he seems to behave unethically, dismissing debt in an attempt to curry favor for a later time when he is dispossessed.
And then there's the surprise twist--the master approves of the steward's shrewdness.
There are several different approaches to this parable. The easiest approach is to look at the final lines of the Gospel, those familiar lines that so many of us would like to ignore, that we cannot serve God and money. This parable seems to suggest that it's hard to have dealings with money that don't leave us looking slimy.
We might ask ourselves how a stranger would view us if they looked at our budgets. On a personal level, the way we spend money shows our values. So if I say I'd like to wipe out childhood poverty, but I spend all of my extra money on wine, a stranger would question that. If I say that I value a Christ-centered economy, but I only give money to my retirement accounts, what would that stranger say? I will be the first to admit that I want to hoard my money, that it's hard for me to trust that God will provide.
We could ask similar questions about our institutional budgets. What does our church budget say about us? If we give more money to the upkeep of our buildings than to the poor, are we living the life that Christ commands us to live? These are tough questions, and I will honestly say that I haven't met many institutions, sacred or secular, that achieve balance very gracefully--especially not when hard times come, as they always do.
Christ commands us not to lose sight of the true riches, the riches that our society doesn't comprehend fully (or at all). We are not our paychecks. There's so much more to us than our job titles. We have been entrusted with so much. We will be judged by how well we show stewardship of those resources.