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"Get a life…!"


24 July 2005 11:00 | Fr John Cullen

NT: 1 Corinthians 10.1-13 (L3); Gospel: Luke 16.1-9 (Pr 20C)

Of all the parables of Jesus recorded in the New Testament, the one in today's Gospel is regarded as the most problematical. Can we possibly be meant to take the story at face value, and accept that Jesus is actually commending a crooked businessman because he also happened to be crafty? And what are we to make of the assertion that 'the children of this world (like the crafty manager) are in their generation wiser than the children of light (the respectable people who conduct their business affairs honourably)'?

It's a curious story, of a 'steward' (an estate manager), responsible for managing the considerable wealth of "a rich man" (today we'd probably refer to him as a "fat cat"). This tycoon discovers that his manager has been fiddling the books, and so he decides to call him in to go through the books, and then to dismiss him.

But the manager is no fool. He knows he's in a fix. And what's more, he knows he's not cut out for hard physical labour, and his pride won't permit him to beg. He's in a very tight corner - he's in a crisis. His present, his future, his whole way of life, are at the brink. So he finds himself asking a sharp question: "At the end of the day, what really matters to me?" And perhaps to his own surprise, he discovers it's not money - rather it's the value of people. So he takes immediate action.

In the past he's been obsessed with totting up percentages and profits. Now, he forgets all that. He goes to all his master's clients, and slashes their debts as if there was no tomorrow - because for him there may not be! And then comes the curious twist in the story: the "fat cat" boss congratulates his manager for his astuteness!

But isn't that the way some people who live with high risk operate today? In moments of real crisis, they can quickly detach themselves from their money. Yes, they will make what they can when they can, and more if they can! But when they're in a tight spot, when it looks as though there may be no tomorrow, they can act with amazing speed, precision, determination and detachment. And perhaps with uncharacteristic generosity of spirit, they can give credit where it is due, to others in whom they recognise the same trait.

When the chips were finally down, both the fat cat and his quick- thinking manager realised that money is nothing more than a means of exchange. Money, in itself, is only currency, and its actual value is only realised when it's spent. Those whom Luke calls "children of this age" know that. We might resent the smug smiles on their faces, but Luke says they're more shrewd than "the children of light" - people of faith - people like us! Luke even goes so far as to ponder: 'If only people of faith would bring to matters of faith some of the savvy and resourcefulness that people of the world bring their business affairs'. Luke is reminding us that the message of Jesus addresses people in a state of emergency, of crisis.

From our comparative security, over the years that note of urgency has been lost. The parables have become familiar to us, and our focus has drifted from their essential message. Today's Gospel is not a moralistic tale about money being dirty, or about the consequences of being caught fiddling the books. It's a much more serious message, about what we regard as really important in life. How much time and energy do you spend attending to your business affairs or your investments or your status, the things we refer to as our 'securities'? And how much time and energy do you spend examining - praying over - the value of your life, your relationships, the people and aspects that contribute to the real quality of your life?

The crafty manager in the Gospel had to come to his moment of crisis and then ponder that question. For those of us who follow the 'Christian Way', the teachings of Jesus keep the question before us all the time: What really matters to me? What are my ultimate values? And am I living by them now? As Christians, we believe that we live 'by God's grace'. But grace can't be bought; it comes to us as a totally free gift. If we grasp hold of that free gift, and keep it to ourselves - stash it away, like money or any other possession - it ceases to be grace, and we've lost it. Instead, Jesus calls us to follow his boundless generosity, and to give it away to others.

In moments of real crisis, we're faced with that urgent question: what really matters to me? In a life or death crisis, we discover that what matters most are our relationships with others, and the power of love to hold people together, no matter what.

In moments of disaster or death, people are comforted by those things that remind them of the love of those they have lost. For Christians that love is endless love, it is of the very nature of our God, it sustains and ultimately heals, it has the last word beyond death.

"Now is the time...." is usually the message of Advent. If we hadn't realised it before, the events of recent weeks have surely alerted us to the fact that we all live in a state of vulnerability, that life is too precious to squander. "Now is the time!" is the call of the Gospel. It's a call we do well to take to heart every day. Young people have another word for it: "Come on, get a life!" That's a serious challenge to us Christians. The question is, what kind of a life do you and I really want?
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