Amos 8:4-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13As a teenager a friend of mine once took me to his father’s garage to get a tool we needed to repair my bicycle. It was an amazing place! On three of the walls there hung an inconceivable array of spanners, screwdrivers, drills, saws, hammers and so on; everything one could possibly need. Then, for no apparent reason my friend turned to me and admitted, ‘My father stole most of these from his work.’ I cannot pretend to you that I was outraged or even shocked by this confession, merely intrigued as to why my mate would, for no apparent reason, pull the veil off his father’s dirty little secret like that.
On the way home I found myself saying, over and over: His father is a thief. His father is a thief; with the same kind of amazement I would later have the first time I actually met a woman who worked the streets at night.
With the benefit of years of reflection on that strange event from my youth I have come to see that garage as a kind of image of the soul; the place where sins are stored – hidden from all who enter there – but laid out in plain sight to their owner. The Lord, of course, sees everything, hidden or not, and declares: Never will I forget a single thing you have done.
Obviously, we are on the level of a cautionary tale here. There is nothing wrong with that. Cautionary tales cause us to question ourselves and take stock of our own behaviour. So in that spirit let each of us take a walk through our home and see if there are not some things in our cupboards, on our bookshelves, in our garages which do not belong to us. And when we have done that let us check our bank accounts and even our lifestyle. Better we do this on our own, in private, than that the Lord should have to one day take us by the hand and point our dishonesty out to us.
At any rate, we do not condemn this man and his garage. Obviously the words of the Lord: you cannot be trusted with what is not yours, can justly be applied to him and, assuming he does not have a change of mind, he will be judged for his dishonesty. But there are other forms of thievery which we must not overlook.
What of those whose opulent houses, whose lifestyles, are crammed full of extravagance and luxury? Is it not possible that the Lord may one day say, ‘Those luxuries of yours are actually the property of the poor?’
Now before you accuse me of going overboard, and it is possible to go overboard here, I want to make it clear that we are all entitled to a comfortable lifestyle and to a certain degree of the luxuries that go with a normal comfortable lifestyle and that will generally include some luxuries we don’t need.
What I am speaking of here is the kind of wasteful extravagance which takes no account of the needs of our poorer neighbours. Pope Francis recently commented on this when he pointed out that all we possess which we really do not need are goods withheld from their rightful owners, the poor? Another cautionary tale for us to examine ourselves on. We may be trusted with what is ‘not ours’; but can we be trusted with what is our ‘very own’?
In this self-examination proposed by the liturgy of the Word we must not forget that it is all directed to ‘eternal life’. There are no thieves in heaven. We examine our lives to discover where our hearts lie because we cannot serve two masters. The Christian life is not about getting rid of all our money, it is about loving God and loving our neighbour. Therefore Jesus says: Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity.
The crafty steward of the gospel used money to win himself friends on earth; we must use it to win friends in heaven.
In the few moments remaining let us return in a very practical way to an examination of conscience in the matter of honesty in money matters.
When we are undercharged in a store do we correct the error or do we just say ‘Oh, that’s their fault’ and pocket the money?
Do we refuse to give to charity because we say that it is the responsibility of the government? Or do we say, ‘The money never gets there, anyway?’
When we find a wallet or handbag do we make efforts to return it or do we say ‘Well, I lost mine the other day?’
Do we contribute to the upkeep of the parish and the priests? Or do we say ‘They don’t use the money properly’ or ‘I don’t agree with how the priests go about things?
I used to say until quite recently: If people stop giving they should also stop taking. I’ve come to realise this makes only apparent sense. What I’ve learned to say is: If people stop giving, it is our duty to keep giving. Not only is this the logic of the gospel; it is the way of Christ himself.