9/18/22 Homily: Dishonest Wealth
Updated: Oct 22, 2022
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE].
“The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light,” says the Lord. “Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
These words can be difficult to understand at first hearing. What does it mean to be prudent? How are worldly people more prudent with each other than disciples of God are with each other? What does dishonest wealth mean? And why would our Lord applaud the dishonest steward’s example?
In God’s eyes, the wealth of the world is ultimately worthless, with one exception. And that exception is this: worldly wealth—or as we’re calling it here, dishonest wealth—can be used to make friends. That’s the only lasting value of worldly wealth. We can use it acquire friendships that last beyond this world.
That’s precisely what the dishonest steward does in our gospel passage today. A steward is someone who manages someone else’s wealth or property. He doesn’t own the master’s wealth. And he can’t keep anything when he departs the master’s house.
This steward in our gospel learned that he was being fired. He’s given the proverbial, “two weeks’ notice,” because he squandered his master’s property. So what does he do? Does his party it up? No. Does he check out and call it quits immediately? No. Rather, he acted prudently.
To act prudently is to act with one’s future in mind. Knowing his time was short, the steward used his remaining time to ingratiate himself with his master’s debtors, by decreasing the amount that they officially owed the master.
He did this with the hope that they would be kind to him when he left the master’s house. He made friends for himself with wealth that he couldn’t take with him at his departure. He was emotionally detached from that wealth because he knew that it only had temporary value to him.
Jesus applauds that example for a single reason: the steward used all of his resources—everything available to him—to acquire his one goal: securing a future beyond his present employment. Sound familiar? We’ve heard this theme time and again from Jesus.
The steward was single-minded in his focus on the inevitable future. His present world was collapsing. And so, everything in that world only had value if they could influence his future.
His situation is meant to be an allegory to our place in the world now. We are being fired from this world. This world is symbolized by the master’s house in the parable. You and I cannot stay in this world any more than the steward could stay in the master’s home. Our days are numbered.
How do we use the time that remains? Do we party it up? Do we check out and call it quits in any way? Like the steward, Jesus wants us to be prudent—to act with the inevitable future that will come; to use all of our resources in view of eternal life beyond this present world. Our Lord wants us to acknowledge that things only have value to the degree that they can be used to achieve that goal of eternal salvation.
Since our time in this world is short, we too should be as emotionally detached from worldly wealth, as the steward was detached from the wealth of his master. We can’t take it with us to the afterlife, any more than the steward could take his master’s wealth with him. But while we are here, we can use wealth—and all of our resources—to make relationships that last.
Perhaps one of the most traditional ways of using our resources in pursuit of eternal life is through the discipline of tithing. It’s one of the three pillars of spiritual discipline: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (tithing). If you and I have ever been stuck in our faith, chances are we’re falling short in one, two, or three of those disciplines. We’re not praying enough or well enough; we’re not fasting enough or well enough; or we’re not tithing enough or well enough.
Tithing is not only a discipline, but a Christian duty. Scripturally, the people of God were required to tithe 10%. To put that into perspective in today’s terms, that would mean tithing $10,000 dollars a year if you made $100,000 annually; or seven thousand, if you made seventy thousand; and so on. We don’t know why God said 10%. He could have said 30% (I’m glad he didn’t). He said 10%. And so, 10% should be our aim.
Tithing is meant to come from our “first fruits,” not our last fruits. It comes “off the top”—from our bank accounts—not from between the sofa cushions. In response to God for his gracious bounty, we tithe first, and do our personal finances afterwards.
A priest once told me about receiving a pledge card, upon which was written: “Father, I’ll give what I can when I can”. While the sentiment may be sincere; from a scriptural perspective, that’s not tithing. Tithing is a sacrifice.
Like the woman who put in two small coins into the Temple treasury, we’re not asked to give of our surplus, but of our means—of our very livelihood. It’s a statement of faith, that we place our hope not in mammon, but in God.
As an act of faith, tithing also has its proper place in the Holy Mass, so we should let that sink in. The offertory isn’t intermission. It’s the liturgical space on the Lord’s Day in which the people of God bring their offering to the altar. It’s part of how we worship our God.
We don’t tithe because of particular needs that the Church has—not in an absolute sense. Rather, we tithe because we have a need to give. That’s how God designed us; to grow by giving. Even if Holy Family and the diocese had all the money in the world to pay all of our bills for the next hundred years, we’d still take a collection at Mass. Tithing changes us. When we willingly relinquish our wealth (blessed are the poor in spirit), we open up a space within ourselves that God can fill.
Tithing lessens the power that money has over you and me, and it helps us maintain a proper perspective of material wealth. Tithing keeps our priorities straight, and increases our growth in the virtue of generosity.
In two weeks’ time, we will begin again the bishop’s annual appeal. While there are real needs that we are supporting through the appeal, my hope is that we approach that appeal as an opportunity to grow in faith and generosity through giving.
Through the grace of this Mass, may God increase within us the spirit of generosity, gratitude, and prudence. God bless you.
The Lawyer's Office, by Marinus van Reymerswaele. 1545. Oil on Panel. Nueva Orleans Museum of Art.