Saturday, September 28, 2019

Holy Shrewdness

From Fr. Paul Scalia:
Many Catholics misunderstand our Lord’s parables. We fall into a saccharine piety, thinking of them as fables, nice down-to-earth stories that teach religious lessons. This, by the way, accounts for a great deal of bad preaching. Suffering this superficial view of the parables, many priests think they can imitate the Master. Thus the banal personal stories or movie and cultural references that supposedly illustrate divine truths but in fact only empty them of significance. In fact, Jesus’ parables always have more depth than a first – or second or third – reading reveals. Far from being merely homespun wisdom, they often contain a twist or a shock to upend conventional thinking.

Particularly in Saint Luke’s Gospel our Lord gives us some puzzling parables. Thus far in the Sunday reading of Luke, we have heard about a hated foreigner who was better than Israel’s finest (Lk 10), cynical social advice on how to get ahead (Lk 14), and a shepherd with poor accounting skills (Lk 15). We will later hear about the unjust judge and the pious publican (Lk 18). The incongruity of these stories is meant stun us, precisely so that we will pay better attention to our Lord’s teaching. Which brings us to today’s parable, quaintly known as that of the “Unjust Steward.” (Lk 16:1-13) Reported for cheating his master, this steward makes provision for his eventual dismissal by further defrauding him. Then the master commends him! This is absurd, of course, and we should not nod in pious agreement with the master’s praise. The story is meant to shock, not edify. And it does so that we will sit up and appreciate a truth that contradicts worldly wisdom. Namely, the practicality of faith.

Now, conventional thinking has it that faith is impractical. It focuses on heavenly things, so worldly realities (time, money, etc.) must not be of any concern. Since the faithful look to heaven, they must have their heads in the clouds. It is just this error that our Lord targets in His summary of the parable (which also serves as a rebuke): “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” Put differently, The faithful should be as practical in striving for heavenly glory as the unfaithful are for worldly comfort.

The steward is a scoundrel, plain and simple. But he at least serves as a good example of practicality. Our Lord uses the word prudent to describe him. He does not mean the virtue of that name but a worldly prudence or shrewdness. Conversely, our prudence in seeking the things that are above might be termed a holy shrewdness. The unjust but shrewd steward knows three things that can help us be more practical: he will be judged, he will need housing, and he will need the means to secure it. (Read more.)

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