Amos 8:4-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-7; Lk. 16:1-13
On 22 August 1485, in marshy fields near the village of Sutton Cheney in Leicestershire, Richard III led the last charge of knights in English history. A circlet of gold around his helmet, his banners flying, he threw his destiny into the hands of the god of battles.
Among the astonished observers of this glittering panoply of horses and steel galloping towards them were Sir William Stanley and his brother Thomas, whose forces had hitherto taken no part in the action. Both watched intently as Richard swept across their front and headed towards Henry Tudor, bent only on eliminating his rival.
As the King battled his way through Henry’s bodyguard, killing his standard bearer with his own hand and coming within feet of Tudor himself, William Stanley made his move. Throwing his forces at the King’s back he betrayed him and had him hacked down. Richard, fighting manfully and crying, “Treason! Treason!” was butchered in the bloodstained mud of Bosworth Field by a man who was there to support him.
This is just one the numerous examples of the dishonest stewards, found in our history. The desire for wealth and power lead men to practice injustice. That is the message that the parable of the dishonest servant gives us.
When the people of Israel reached the Promised Land, the land was equitably distributed among the various tribes, and the families in each tribe. But gradually less thrifty people mortgaged or sold their land, and soon most of the cultivable land ended up in the hands of a few rich people. Social injustice became a great issue in the society. Prophets raised their voice against it.
Today's First Reading from the Book of Amos [Amos 8:4-7] speaks against greed. There were a couple of things that the Israelites were doing that was drawing the condemnation of the Lord God. First of all, during their trading, the merchants used a dishonest measure to cheat and oppress the poor. The law forbade them to use dishonest means of measures. [Lev. 19:36; Deut. 25:14-15] The dishonest Israelites were guilty of selling what should have been thrown away.
Today’s reading from the Gospel draws our attention to the parable of the dishonest manager. This parable warns us against the wealth wrongly acquired or badly used.
Jesus admonishes his listeners that material possessions should be used to cement the friendships wherein the real and permanent value of life lies. The Rabbis had a saying, “The rich help the poor in this world, but the poor help the rich in the world to come.” It was a Jewish belief that charity given to the poor people would stand to a man’s credit in the world to come. A man’s true wealth would consist not in what he kept, but in what he gave away. According to St Ambrose, “The bosom of the poor, the houses of widows, the mouths of children are the barns which last forever.”
A man can use his wealth selfishly or he can use it to make life easier, not only for himself, but for his friends and his fellow-men. Possessions are not in themselves a sin, but they are a great responsibility, and the man who uses them to help his friends has gone far to discharge that responsibility. According to Jesus the earthly possessions are the little things that we are entrusted with. We are merely stewards over the earthly possessions.
The best proof of one’s fitness to be entrusted with a bigger task is his way of fulfilling a small task. The life of Robert Owen (1771-1858), generally considered to be the father of the Co-operative movement, is a great example for this principle. At the age of nine he was apprenticed to a draper's shop, and he quickly gained knowledge of fabrics. At eleven years of age he moved to London and was employed in the drapery trade where he was obliged to put in an eighteen hour day, six days a week, with only short breaks for his meals. At the age of twenty, he followed up an opportunity through which he obtained the position of manager in a Manchester textile mill where there were five hundred people employed. As he proved successful in this position his employer gave him additional responsibility for the management of another large factory.
While most people are grasping for more power and visibility, Mother Teresa genuinely believed that the world is changed through the small and hidden. She regularly and consistently argued that the small things are where the action is. No man will be advanced to higher office until he has given proof of his honesty and ability in smaller positions. Jesus extends the principle to eternity. He says, upon earth we are in charge of things which are not really ours. We cannot take them with us when we die. On the other hand, in heaven we will get what is really and eternally ours. What we get in heaven will depend on how we use the things of the earth.
Often we find excuse that we are surrounded by evil, selfishness and injustice. Therefore if one man tries nothing can be achieved. All the great men, too, lived in such a world of reality. But they dared to do the little they could. Mother Teresa was deeply convinced that every little action had its significance. So she said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Doing small things is hard, maybe even harder than big things. You won’t be congratulated by many. In some cases, not a single person even knows what you’ve done. And there’s no big reward at the end of it. Hence, to do little things with dedication and commitment requires humility, selflessness, patience and self-discipline. Mother Teresa admonished her followers, “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
In the parable of the talents, Jesus praises the man who received two talents and the one with five. Both took efforts to multiply what they had been given, and about them their master said, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" The one who is faithful to what is entrusted to him will be guided by the Lord. The Psalmist who had this confidence declared, “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want. Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose.”
So, as good stewards, Let us use the earthly possessions as a means to our eternal possessions. And remember the words of Jesus, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all the other things will be given to you (Mt 6:33).