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Meaning of Parable of the Dishonest Steward

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Arrow Question / Issue:

"I was just curious as to what the scripture meant at the Mass the other day that I attended. It went something to the effect of there being a man that served this master, the servant stole from the master even though I believe the master was a good man. The thief was caught and was going to get fired or something. Then the thief went to the people that owed the master money and cut their debt in half or made deals on the debt again ripping off the master just so he could have people that would help him when the master fired him. And the priest made the thief out to have done something good. I am very confused as to why this would be correct or if I missed some details. Can you clue me in?"

 

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I believe you are referring to the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 16 (Parable of the Dishonest Steward/Parable of the Unjust Steward). This can be a difficult parable to understand. The passage certainly does *not* mean that we can do evil so that good may result (this is never the case). The parable is explained in a traditional missal as follows...

"It is not the unfaithfulness of the steward after his disgrace that our Lord would have us imitate, but his foresight. Almighty God has placed this world's riches at our disposal. Instead of using them, as is often the case, to do evil, whence their name of mammon of iniquity, let us make good use of them, by helping those who have not. Charity is the key which opens heaven.

If, says St. Jerome, the master, injured in respect of his rights, praises the foresight of the steward who knows how to take care of his own interests, albeit by fraud; how much more will our Divine Redeemer, who cannot suffer any loss, and who is always inclined towards leniency, praises his disciples when he sees them treating with kindness those who should be believers in him?

St. Jerome applies the same principle not only to temporal goods but also to spiritual ones. 'If, he says, the fruits of injustice wisely dispersed, are turned into a means of doing justice, how much more shall the divine Word, in which is no injustice, and which has been entrusted to the apostles, if rightly dispensed raise to heaven those who dispense it.'"

Below are some footnotes from a traditional translation of Holy Scripture (Douay Rheims)...

* "And the lord commended, &c. By this we are given to understand, that if the lord of this unjust steward could commend him for his worldly prudence, though it were an overt act of injustice; how much more will the Almighty be pleased with those who, obedient to his command, seek to redeem their sins by alms-deeds?"

* "Commanded the unjust steward. Lit. the steward of iniquity: not for his cheating and injustice, but for his contrivances in favour of himself--In their generation; i.e. in their concerns of this life. They apply themselves with greater care and pains, in their temporal affairs, than the children of light, whom God has favoured with the light of faith, do to gain heaven."

* "Make to yourselves friends, die. Not that we are authorized to wrong our neighbour, to give to the poor: evil is never to be done, that good may come from it. D. Thoma.--But we are exhorted to make the poor our friends before God, by relieving them with the riches which justly indeed belong to us, but are called the mammon of iniquity, because only the iniquitous man esteems them as riches, on which he sets his affections; whilst the riches of the virtuous are wholly celestial and spiritual."

* "What a beautiful thought this! What a consolation to the rich man, when the term of his mortal existence is approaching, to think he shall have as many advocates to plead for his admittance into the eternal mansions of rest, as he has made friends among the poor by relieving their temporal wants. The rich give to the poor earthly treasures, the latter return in recompense eternal and infinite happiness. Hence we must infer, that the advantage is all on the side of the giver; according to the saying of our Lord, happier is the condition of him who gives, than of him who receives."

* "Temporal riches may be said to belong to another, because they are the Lord's; and we have only the dispensing of them: so that when we give alms, we are liberal of another's goods. But if we are not liberal in giving what is another's, how shall we be so in giving our own?"

* "There is a certain erroneous opinion inherent in mankind, which increases evil and lessens good. It is the feeling that all the good things we possess in the course of our life we possess as lords over them, and accordingly we seize them as our especial goods. But it is quite the contrary. For we are placed in this life not as lords in our own house, but as guests and strangers, led whither we would not, and at a time we think not of. He who is now rich, suddenly becomes a beggar. Therefore whoever you are, know yourself to be a dispenser of the things of others, and that the privileges granted you are for a brief and passing use. Cast away then from your soul the pride of power, and put on the humility and modesty of a steward."

* "But the wicked steward aptly contrived the remission of debts, to provide for himself an escape from his misfortunes among his fellow-servants; for it follows, I am resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. For as often as a man perceiving his end approaching, lightens by a kind deed the load of his sins, (either by forgiving a debtor his debts, or by giving abundance to the poor,) dispensing those things which are his Lord's, he conciliates to himself many friends, who will afford him before the judge a real testimony, not by words, but by the demonstration of good works, nay moreover will provide for him by their testimony a resting-place of consolation. But nothing is our own, all things are in the power of God."


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