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Sunday 18th September 2016

Gospel Luke 16:1-13 ©

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘There was a rich man and he had a steward denounced to him for being wasteful with his property. He called for the man and said, “What is this I hear about you? Draw me up an account of your stewardship because you are not to be my steward any longer.” Then the steward said to himself, “Now that my master is taking the stewardship from me, what am I to do? Dig? I am not strong enough. Go begging? I should be too ashamed. Ah, I know what I will do to make sure that when I am dismissed from office there will be some to welcome me into their homes.”

Then he called his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, “How much do you owe my master?” “One hundred measures of oil” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond; sit down straight away and write fifty.” To another he said, “And you, sir, how much do you owe?” “One hundred measures of wheat” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond and write eighty.”

‘The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness. For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light.

‘And so I tell you this: 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 man who can be trusted in little things can be trusted in great; the man who is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in great. If then you cannot be trusted with money, that tainted thing, who will trust you with genuine riches? And if you cannot be trusted with what is not yours, who will give you what is your very own?

‘No servant can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’

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One of the banes of my life is an old rhyme which people of a certain generation generally drag up when I tell them where I am from. I am from border-country, a locality famous for its dealers and smugglers. ‘From Carrickmacross to Crossmaglen there are more rogues than honest men’.   The rhyme along with others celebrates the clever rogues who are supposed to thrive there. The locals are said to have a talent of making the best of disadvantaged circumstances by their inventiveness. The border which cut them off and towards which they had been herded became a life-line; a source of possible income through smuggling or ‘commodity relocation’ as we term it in these days of verbal correctness.

In a curious extract from the gospel, the master praises the ‘dishonest steward’. He praises him for his astuteness in dealing with the ways of the world and invites all of us to be as astute and as inventive and as concerned about the ways of God as we are about financial and worldly matters.

Jesus knew that money was a touchstone for the practice of true religion. How many of our principles and virtues and good intentions melt when money enters the equation. Jesus knew the corrupting effects of money. ‘I will pull down my barns and build bigger barns….’ He also preached the unimportance of money. ‘Regard the lilies of the field…’ He also preached the primacy of the poor. It is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom. Only perhaps on the shirt-tails of the poor may any of us hope to enter.

Money is power, a power which, like any other can be used constructively or destructively. It gives the power to make choices. It is also necessary for anyone to acquire the resources to live with dignity and to develop our God-given potential. There is no point in being naively anti-money or to disparage the material. We should not however put our trust in the material or in the security of wealth. We are not to become servants of mammon or of its ways and values. All these things will fail us. We are taught that a simple lifestyle is honourable and virtuous, a value that is yet to be widely re-discovered.

We watch the financial signs very closely. We go to some lengths to find wealth. We acquire status and security in our financial abilities. Would that we were as observant, as trusting, as energetic in seeking out spiritual wealth and wisdom. We would perhaps, for most of our lives, rather find wealth than find God. We trust in the financial signs and the wisdom of the world.

Constantine, the Roman emperor who made Christianity legal is said to have had a vision of a sign in the sky as he prepared for contest. An inscription said, ‘In this sign you shall conquer’. That sign, the most important sign of all, was the sign of the cross.