Administrators Only, Not Owners

Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau


Lk 16:1-13

The Gospel presents the story of a dishonest steward who is accused of malpractice. The master has him summoned and tells him what he has heard about his indiscretions. The facts are so clear that the steward does not try to justify himself or offer an explanation. He is immediately fired. He begins to reflect that he knows only how to supervise; he is neither able to hoe nor to humble himself to beg for alms. Before leaving the job, he must put the accounts in order, with many debtors still to deliver the products. “I know what I must do,” he exclaims.

He calls all the debtors and reduces their debts. In the future, these beneficiary debtors would certainly not forget such generosity, and they would feel obliged to offer him hospitality in their houses.

The story concludes with the master as well as Jesus praising the administrator. He acted with cunning. He should be imitated! But we expect a different response from Jesus. Jesus should have said to his disciples: “Do not act like this villain; be honest!” Instead, he approves of what he did. The difficulty lies here: how could a dishonest person be offered as a model?

This difficulty does not exist if the parable is interpreted in a different way. We imagine that if the owner was cheated again (2,250 liters of oil and 110 quintals of grain is not small stuff), he would have been outraged. Since he praises his former administrator, it means that in this process he has not lost anything. We have to assume that administrators had to deliver a certain amount to their masters; whatever extra they could get went into their own pockets and the figures could be higher in the account books. It was a technique used by the publicans to enrich themselves when they collected taxes.

What did the administrator of the parable do? Instead of behaving like a loan shark with the debtors, he left them the profit he expected to have. The administrator was shrewd—says the Lord—because he understood what could be relied on: not goods or products that he was entitled to (that could rot or be stolen), but on friends. He knew how to renounce the first in order to conquer for himself the second. This is the point.

“Use filthy money to make friends for yourselves so that when it fails, these people may welcome you into the eternal homes” (v. 9). This is the most important saying of today’s passage. It synthesizes the whole teaching of the parable. It is curious to note the remark of Jesus on filthy money. There seems to be something filthy about money. In an economy where everyone is supposed to be equal, if one person has more money than one’s fair share, it is filthy; it is something someone has been cheated out of! Remember, in divine economics, the one who works one hour and the one who works eight hours earn the same reward.

What Jesus would like us to understand is that the only shrewd way of using the goods of this world is to use them to help others, to make them friends. They will be the ones to welcome us in life.

In human economics, money buys things exactly proportionate to its value. In divine economics, money buys relationships worth more than their value, though often it appears like wasting money on unprofitable pursuits. While he speaks about money, Jesus advocates two ways of using the money, the shrewd way and the wise way. The shrewd way is that of the administrator in this parable, which is the minimum Christian growth expected of us. But the perfect use of it is to give to others without expecting anything in return. Jesus narrates the story of the rich fool who used all his money for his personal pleasures. Giving to people who cannot return to us anything is the divine way of using worldly resources. Jesus teaches us to throw parties to poor people who cannot give us anything in return. We need to grow into wise investors of our worldly resources.

Jesus concludes his teaching by affirming that no servant can serve two masters… God and money. We would like to please both, but it is just one you can serve. Serve God by mastering how to use your riches. Serve God and master the other.