Because Jesus Is The Unjust Steward

This first ran back in September, 2010 during the Feast of Our Lady of La Salette. I think it deserves another look…

Today I heard the best explanation of the parable of the “Unjust Steward” that I have ever heard. Or maybe it is the parable of the “Shrewd Manager.” Either way, thanks to the homily of my pastor today,  I think I may finally understand this parable.

The title of this post gives it away. Jesus, Our Lord and Savior is the unjust steward, the shrewd manager. How else to find favor in the hearts of us all than to write off or write down our debts completely? How else could this steward’s master find favor with him, unless Our Lord is the steward and God is the rich man? Let’s look at the passage from today’s gospel reading.

Luke 16: 1-13

Jesus said to his disciples,

“A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said,’What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship,because you can no longer be my steward.’

So far, so good.  The conventional wisdom appears to be holding sway. Prepare yourself for a contrarian twist.

The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that,when I am removed from the stewardship,they may welcome me into their homes.’

He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said,’How much do you owe my master?’

Now. Start thinking this is Our Lord speaking of himself.  You know the popular “What Would Jesus Do” question? WWJD? This is it. Back to the debtor (insert character of yourself here).

He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’

He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’

Note the lack of any complaint or push-back on the part of the debtor. This guy knows a good deal when he hears it. A little while later,

Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’

He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’

The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’

Another bargain, and another taker. Right about now, the conventional wisdom lover in you is getting angry, right? This son-of-a-mule is undermining his masters wealth and business. Bad manager! Only one problem. The bad manager gets commended for it.

And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

Read that sentence one more time. Go ahead, I’ll wait. He says the worldly are more prudent in their dealings with others than are the special ones, these “children of light.” Is this cutting you to the quick a little? It did me.

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Remember how the Scribes and Pharisees were always chiding Our Lord about him hanging out with unsavory types, you know, those nasty sinners, publicans, and tax collectors? Ahem, yes, the saavy ones instead of the “righteous” ones. Be clever like the former and not disdainful like the latter.

The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?

Do these two sentences have your head swimming? What a paradox, right? Sentence A = conventional wisdom, and we nod our heads in agreement. Then, Sentence B turns sentence A on its head and we shake our heads and yell “no!” We’re all left scratching our heads so He says,

If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Because we individually don’t own anything, see, but we are all, instead, in debt up to our eyeballs. We are indebted to God, because everything we have is a gift. A gift which we must be stewards of. Good stewards, who pat ourselves on the back for our good work? Or unjust stewards, like the model we see here?

Quick, lean your head back so you can breath (!) or else you will drown in debt. And then give thanks to God that He sent His Son, the unjust steward, to write down all of our debts to zero.  In that way, through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, can our lives be truly restored. For He also said,

Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners. (Matthew 9:13)

If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. (Matthew 12:7)

He taught us to pray “forgive us our debts” which he does for us so easily, and as the unjust steward did, so readily, so cleverly. But he also asks us to pray these words: “as we have also forgiven our debtors.”

Now this is agape in action.

Speaking only for myself, I know I need to work on being more forgiving. How about you?

Because of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Thoughts On War

Have I mentioned lately that I’ve been taking a shine to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas? It’s difficult not to, seeing how much of the Angelic Doctor’s work undergirds many of the doctrines of Holy Mother Church.

Did you realize that another title given to St. Thomas Aquinas is that of the Common Doctor? That was the sobriquet that Blessed Pope John XXIII bestowed upon him when he addressed a Thomistic Conference back in September of 1960. Regarding Aquinas he writes,

His teaching was, more than any other, fully in keeping with the truths that God has revealed, with the writings of the Holy Fathers, and with the principles of right reason and therefore Holy Church has adopted it as her own, and has given the name of common or universal teacher to its author.

So you should be very interested in much of what the Angelic Doctor has to say on every subject under the sun. His writings are so voluminous that if he hasn’t weighed in on a particular subject, it probably didn’t exist at the time.

But war existed, see, and here then is an excerpt of his thoughts, which are indeed the Churches’ thoughts, on that interesting and troubling subject of war. You will find them to be grounded in reality, because Aquinas, as Jacques Maritain says, is “the greatest master in realism—an integral realism, as aware of the reality of the spirit as well as of the body—who ever lived.”

QUESTION XL.
OF WAR.


Article I.—Is it always a sin to go to war?

R. There are three requisites for a war to be just. The first thing is the authority of the prince by whose command the war is to be waged. It does not belong to a private person to start a war, for he can prosecute his claim in the court of his superior. In like manner the mustering of the people, that has to be done in wars, does not belong to a private person. But since the care of the commonwealth is entrusted to princes, to them belongs the protection of the common weal of the city, kingdom, or province subject to them. And as they lawfully defend it with the material sword against inward disturbances by punishing malefactors, so it belongs to them also to protect the commonwealth from enemies without by the sword of war. The second requisite is a just cause, so that they who are assailed should deserve to be assailed for some fault that they have committed.

Hence it is no justification for an enterprise of violence commenced by private individuals in a civilized State, to call it a war. Every State is bound to suppress private war within the limits of its own jurisdiction; as also to take away all pretext for such war by due redress of wrongs.
Hence Augustine says: “Just wars are usually denned as those which avenge injuries, in cases where a nation or city has to be chastised for having either neglected to punish the wicked doings of its people, or neglected to restore what has been wrongfully taken away.” The third thing requisite is a right intention of promoting good or avoiding evil. For Augustine says: “Eagerness to hurt, bloodthirsty desire of revenge, an untamed and unforgiving temper, ferocity in renewing the struggle, lust of empire,—these and the like excesses are justly blamed in war.”

§ i. To the objection from the text that “all that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” it is to be said, as Augustine says, that “he takes the sword, who without either command or grant of any superior or lawful authority, arms himself to shed the blood of another.” But he who uses the sword by the authority of a prince or judge (if he is a private person), or out of zeal for justice, and by the authority of God (if he is a public person), does not take the sword of himself, but uses it as committed to him by another.

§ 2. To the objection from the text, “I say to you not to resist evil,” it is to be said, as Augustine says, that such precepts are always to be observed “in readiness of heart,” so that a man be ever ready not to resist, if there be occasion for non-resistance. But sometimes he must take another course in view of the common good, or even in view of those with whom he fights.

Augustine says: “He is the better for being overcome, from whom the license of wrong-doing is snatched away: for there is no greater unhappiness than the happiness of sinners, the nourishment of an impunity which is only granted as a punishment, and the strengthening of that domestic foe, an evil will.”

Article III.—Is it lawful in war to use stratagems?

R. The end of stratagems is to deceive the enemy. Now there are two ways of deceiving in word or deed. One way is by telling lies and breaking promises, and no one ought to deceive the enemy in this way; for “there are certain laws of war, and agreements to be observed even among enemies,” as Ambrose says. In another way one may be deceived by the fact that we do not open our purpose or declare our mind to him. That we are not always bound to do. Even in sacred doctrine many things are to be concealed from unbelievers, that they may not scoff at them, according to the text: “Give not what is holy to dogs.” Much more are our preparations to attack our enemies to be hidden from them. Such concealment belongs to the nature of stratagems, which it is lawful to use in just wars. Nor are such stratagems properly called frauds, nor are they inconsistent with justice, nor with a well-ordered will. For it would be an inordinate will for any one to wish nothing to be concealed from him by other people.

Article IV.—Is war lawful on feast-days?

R. The observance of feasts does not bar the taking the means even to the bodily welfare of man. Hence our Lord rebukes the Jews, saying: “Are you angry at me because I have healed the whole man on the sabbath-day?” Therefore it is that physicians may lawfully apply remedies to men on a feast-day. Much more is the good estate of the commonwealth to be maintained, whereby many murders are prevented, and countless ills both temporal and spiritual—a more important good than the bodily well-being of a single man. And therefore, for the defence of the commonwealth of the faithful, just wars may lawfully be prosecuted on feast-days, if necessity so requires: for it would be tempting God for a man to want to keep his hands from war under stress of such necessity. But when the necessity ceases, war is not lawful on feastdays.

§ 4. “And they determined in that day, saying: Whoever shall come up against us to fight on the sabbath-day, we will fight against him.

Interested in reading more? Head on over to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. Also, for those who wish to explore this further, Catholic Answers has a Primer on Just War Doctrine.

Update: “Justice has been done,” states President Obama, and just-war scholars agree.

For Help Reading Maps Correctly

Jesuit map of the world, 17th century (Public Domain).

I have a friend who can’t understand why I enjoy being a Catholic.

From discussions I have had with him, it appears that he believes I am now enslaved by an organization that is run by a tyrant who bears the title of “Pope.” I reckon that his libertarian tendencies bristle at the very idea of submitting to an authority, even if that authority is ordained  and conferred by Christ Himself.

Now before you go and start thinking Frank is using hillbilly colloquial speech by using the word reckon, let me put on my Anu Garg hat and have a look at this particular word. Here is what the Merriam Webster Dictionary says about it,

Reckon transitive verb
Definition of reckon
1
a: count <to reckon the number of days days till Christmas>
b: estimate, compute <reckon the height of a building, etc.>
c: to determine by reference to a fixed basis
Example-

the existence of the United States is reckoned from the Declaration of Independence
2: to regard or think of as: consider
3
chiefly dialect : think, suppose < I reckon I’ve outlived my time — Ellen Glasgow>

intransitive verb

1: to settle accounts
2: to make a calculation
3
a: judge
b: chiefly dialect: suppose, think
4: to accept something as certain: place reliance reckon on your promise to help.

I hope you can see from this that using the word reckon in a sentence is not something that only hillbillies from Tennessee do. Because surely you can see that this word has many different meanings, and shades of meaning. And notice the reference to the Declaration of Independence, which for the purposes of this post fits where I’m going to the “T.”

There is another use of the root word reckon that may help shed some light on where I’m going with this post as well. This word is really a phrase that has to do with the science of navigation. Let’s take a look at Merriam Webster again,

Dead reckoning noun
Definition of Dead Reckoning

1: the determination without the aid of celestial observations of the position of a ship or aircraft from the record of the courses sailed or flown, the distance made, and the known or estimated drift
2: guesswork
— dead reckon (verb)

First Known Use of Dead Reckoning: 1613

Dead reckoning is nice, and all, but you wouldn’t board an airline flight if you thought the pilot was just taking the plane up for a spin without any detailed flight plan to get you where you were going, would you? And lookee there at the second definition of the word. In the navigation business, guesswork can get you killed.

Now, I’m removing the scholarly and erudite looking Anu Garg hat and putting on my Tennessee hillbilly “common sense” hat to say that this here fancy phrase-word means nothin’ more than “flying by the seat of your pants.” Heck, you might even be plumb lost, “but yer jes too proud to stop at the gaas stayshun to ask that feller for directions, I reckon.” See?

What’s that? You can read a map all by yourself you say? You don’t need any help reading maps? Well, I would really like to believe that about you but my own experience has been different. I almost never get lost, geographically speaking. Just ask my wife. And I’ve spent an awful long time in the map room too and I love reading maps as well. But in my practical, real world experience of actually navigating out in the field as a Marine? I know that some people read maps wrong. Dead wrong.

And they were reading the same maps that I had, too. I can’t even remember how many times I have had to point this out to lost Lieutenants, Captains, and sometimes even Majors, when I was out in the field in the Marines. And to PFC’s, Lance Corporal’s, and even Sergeants sometimes too, as they were learning land navigation skills. And this assumes you are using current maps that were drawn and printed recently. True story time. This may shock you, but I even knew a Captain in my artillery battery who got lost routinely(!) even when he was using GPS. I kid you not! So don’t argue to me that the latest technology will absolutely guarantee that you will make it to your intended destination.

Now, what if the map you are using today is ancient? You know, like you are using one that looks something like Blackbeard’s treasure map, or the one from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic book Treasure Island. You can see that there is an X that marks the spot of the treasure but not much more detail than that.

Well, if I were you, and I found a map like this, I would track down and find the guy who buried the treasure who, as it turns out, is also the same guy who drew the map, and I’d say,

Lookee here, I can’t make head nor tales of where in the world this here treasure is from a readin’ your map all by myself. Show me how to read this map and take me to the place where “X” marks the spot.

That is where the Catholic Church comes in see? She made the map, and she knows where the treasure chest is. Sure, I can read that Treasure Island map too, but it’s lacking in a few details, or didn’t you notice? How long have you been reading that map and you didn’t notice this?! Now, the Church knows where the treasure is buried, because She was there when the chest was put into the ground. And She was there when it ascended up into Heaven too.

She knows that the treasure resides in each and every one of us now, so the map isn’t a geographical one, see, but an internal one. As G.K. Chesterton explains so well,

The Catholic Church carries a sort of map of the mind which looks like the map of a maze, but which is in fact a guide to the maze. It has been compiled from knowledge which, even considered as human knowledge, is quite without any human parallel.

There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years. Its experience naturally covers nearly all experiences; and especially nearly all errors. The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the ways that have been shown to be worthless by the best of all evidence: the evidence of those who have gone down them.

Now back to my friend, who has a “give me liberty, or give me death” bent that would make even Patrick Henry seem squishy on the concept of freedom. Free will is a wonderful gift from God. Knowing that you can’t read maps and need help navigating is another one of those gifts. But wait, there is more.

In my little mind, the knowledge that Christ himself founded the Church and put a human being in charge of it while She is here on earth gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. The kind of feeling I get when I think of my mother comforting me after the time when I had gotten lost at the county fair one year when I was little. When she found me, she gave me the biggest hug ever, and boy did I need that too! And to me this is similar to the kind of feeling I got when I was in the Marines and was serving under a great Commandant, or good commander. It is a feeling of confidence and joy that I am in good hands, even if the mission I was involved in might lead to my physical death.

Allison recently wrote a post about her search for answers about the Kingdom of God. I don’t know if my freedom loving friend thinks about the fact that this kingdom is not a representative democracy or not. But to be clear, it’s called a Kingdom, because there is a King. He is a wise and wonderful King, and a benevolent one too. But most certainly He is a King, and if I pledge my allegiance to Him, which I have, then I do so with full knowledge that I will have to do what he asks of me. I am submissive to Him, otherwise, I’m a rogue and a traitor.

This duty to obey requires discipline and grace, and in my short experience as a Catholic, the Sacraments of the Church, and Her teachings, which are God’s teachings (as you can easily discover), are what provide me the means to stay the course without getting lost. And I will continue to read maps to my hearts content. And I’m very happy because on this ship, I don’t have to decide everything either. Thank God!

The Church is the Ship and I have complete confidence in Her Captain’s ability to navigate the shoals of this world until the day His Majesty decides to come back aboard Her and brings us into port.

Semper Fidelis,


Update: Mark Shea on “Herding Cats On Sola Scriptura.

Personal Thoughts on the Scandal on a Sunday

To locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat.

That short, terse statement is the mission of the Marine Corps rifle squad. I learned it long ago. It was seared into my memory at Parris Island, never to be forgotten. It comes readily to my mind now as more stories of abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests continue to come to light.

Perhaps it is wrong for me to have these feelings, but my first reaction is to fix bayonets and start rooting out these enemy saboteurs. Whispers in the Loggia? I would argue that bullhorns and flashlights in the Loggia are in order. I feel like St. Peter when he whacks the right ear off Malchus when the authorities came to arrest Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus.” (John 18:1-10 RSV)

Obviously Peter was attempting to protect Jesus by cleaving the head of this Malchus fellow in two. Quick reflexes saved Malchus, while costing him his ear. In His last recorded miracle before being crucified, Jesus heals Malchus by restoring his ear to him,

But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And He touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:51 RSV)

Our Lord then explained that if He were about to take over the world at that time by force of arms, He wouldn’t need the help of humans to do it:

Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54 RSV)

What does this scene have to do with pedophile priests? Perhaps I just needed to let you know that I am thoroughly disgusted with this ongoing scandal. I feel compelled to wield the sword at them much the way that other regular guy named Peter tried to do there in the Garden of Gethsemane. Call me Joe Sixpack, USMC of the Catholic blogosphere. I pray that Catholics the world over will insist on a thorough and uncompromising investigation of these latest allegations. No one should be immune from investigation and/or  prosecution.

I definitely did not become Catholic because of pedophile priests. When the scandal first broke in the United States in 2002, I wasn’t a Catholic yet. My oldest son was attending our parish school though and as the allegations came to light nationwide, I personally thought that this could be “game over” for the Catholic Church. Not my problem though because I wasn’t a Catholic.

That was my attitude then maybe, but not now. Now my attitude is 8 years of this crap has been long enough. Sure, the barque of St. Peter maneuvers as nimbly as an aircraft carrier, but 8 (others say it’s 10) years to make a course correction?! But wait a second, the ship is on the right course.  The problem is that some of the hands have gone rogue on us and need to be dealt with ASAP. And just when you thought the situation with the crew was under control, up came more allegations of shipmates behaving badly. And not just any shipmates, but officers of the line. In Ireland late last year and now in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. Like dandelions in my yard, or zombies…Run!

Wait, on second thought don’t run. Sure zombies aren’t real, but only one thing works on them in the movies. Fire, like from a flame-thrower or a torch. And only one thing works on dandelions in my yard: forcibly extracting them from the ground, root and all, and tossing them in the trash can.

You need to extract them while they are still in full bloom and before the flowers become seeds. If they seed over, you still have to pull them while being very careful that none of the seedlings drop to the ground. Good luck with that. I’ve found that clipping the seed head first and then extracting the weed works best in this case. Ever considered transplanting dandelions removed from one part of your yard to another? Me neither.

I don’t mean to offend anyone’s sensibilities by talking about pedophile priests and associating them with punitive actions like fire, maneuver, forcible extraction, and other harsh words and phrases. But like the warrior King David, my hands are trained for battle and my fingers for war.  I realize that we are talking about sinful human beings just like ourselves. But what of the victims and the anguish and remorse they have endured and are still enduring?

And what of the damage to the Church, the Body of Christ? No one’s reputation or standing is more important than that of the Church as a whole. These words from the book of Isaiah ring loudly,

The Lord said: Since this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me, and their reverence for me has become routine observance of the precepts of men, therefore I will again deal with this people in surprising and wondrous fashion:

The wisdom of its wise men shall perish and the understanding of its prudent men be hid. Woe to those who would hide their plans too deep for the LORD! Who work in the dark, saying, “Who sees us, or who knows us?”

Suggestion: let the sun shine in.  You don’t protect the integrity of the ship by ignoring holes in her hull, you repair them. And you don’t allow malefactors to run amok within your ships crew either. You court-martial them and bust them to private and throw them in the brig.

You see, something else was seared into my brain while I served in the Marine Corps. It’s from the Code of Conduct (bold emphasis is mine):

Article VI: I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

I’m a rookie lay Catholic, but I bet if I tried hard enough I could find a similar Code of Conduct for priests and religious. Yep, here’s one.  Not quite as hard corps as the one in the military. For instance this line from that code (4.5) should really be up there in section 2, Conduct with Minors

All instances of alleged harassment (insert abuse) must be reported at once to the immediate supervisor, Pastor, Parochial Administrator, Principal or the appropriate Diocesan Official.

Um, I suggest calling the police first.  Serious people with guns and badges looking for bad guys tend to get things done a little quicker than the average bureaucracy.  Also, simple stuff like no child left alone with an adult works wonders in Scouting. Is this the protocol in your parish?

To keep up with the news, I suggest you check in with the good folks over at New Advent for the latest stories from the Catholic blogosphere. And there is a news feed over at this site too, which probably won’t win me any admirers either.  So be it.

In closing, even though I haven’t ever personally stooped this low in my own sinful life (there, but for the grace of God, go I), I know that these priests deserve our sympathy, prayers, compassion and love. But they need to be arrested, tried and convicted (if found guilty by a jury of their peers), and then sent to jail for their crimes. This is necessary not only for good order and discipline aboard His Majesty’s Ship but for the good of the entire world.

Now is the time for accountability and transparency. “No more of this!” St. Joseph pray for us!

Semper Fidelis


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