Bible Meditation: Disciples and Money

Sunday September 18, 2022, four texts will be read.
First reading Book of Amos (Am 8, 4-7).
Psalm 112.
Second reading First letter to Timothy (1 Tim 2, 1-8).
The Gospel according to Saint Luke (Lk 16, 1-13).

Luke 16, 1-13

At that time, Jesus said to his disciples:
“A rich man had a manager
which was denounced to him as squandering his property.
He summoned him and said, “What am I learning
about you? Give me an account of your management,
because you can no longer be my manager.”
The manager says to himself: “What am I going to do,
since my master withdraws the management from me?
Work the land ? I don’t have the strength.
beg? I would be ashamed. I know what I’m gonna do
so that once fired from my stewardship,
people welcome me into their homes.” He then called, one by one,
those who were indebted to his master.
He asked the first: “How much do you owe my master?”
He said, “A hundred barrels of oil.” The manager says to him:
“Here is your receipt; Quick, sit down and write 50.”
Then he asked another: “And you, how much do you owe?”
He said, “A hundred sacks of wheat.” The manager said, “Here is your receipt, write 80.”
The master praised this dishonest manager,
for he had acted with skill; indeed, the sons of this world
are more skilful among themselves than the sons of light.

Well, I tell you: Make friends with dishonest money, so that when it is no longer there, these friends will welcome you to eternal dwellings.
One who is trustworthy in the slightest thing
is trustworthy also in a great deal. (…)
No servant can serve two masters:
or else he will hate one and love the other,
or he will attach himself to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and money. »

In search of meaning

This text is undoubtedly one of the most difficult to interpret in the entire New Testament. Indeed, Jesus begins by telling a “scandalous” parable of a steward (the Greek text uses the term oikonomos, the employee in charge of running a property instead of a master) who mismanages what is entrusted to him. Luc is not speaking at this time of embezzlement, but rather of incompetence. On the other hand, what follows is not very virtuous: calling his boss’s creditors, he authorizes them to make forgery in writing to their advantage in order to conciliate them for later. And now Jesus seems to praise this way of doing things, to the point of saying that you have to make friends with dishonest money!

If that doesn’t seem very clear, don’t panic: since Antiquity, all commentators have struggled. And Luke is also obviously quite embarrassed, since he matches this text with a series of statements, some of which seem to contradict what Jesus said, in particular the one on dishonesty. In passing, note how the evangelist works. Having at his disposal a collection of quotations from Jesus detached from their context, he can organize them freely. Here, we have the impression that he went on a hunt for statements that could serve as keys to interpreting the subject, so that listeners who are a little too hasty do not misunderstand the meaning of Jesus’ words.

Provided that the poor are relieved of their debts…

For it is the end of the parable that gives its meaning: “Make friends with dishonest money, so that when it’s gone, those friends will welcome you to the eternal mansions. »

Who are these friends that we are sure will welcome us to paradise? Luke has already said it in 6, 20: “Blessed are you poor people: the kingdom of God is yours. » We understand better what Jesus means, and it is much more toxic than it seems: we can use all the expedients, even the most dishonest, as long as the poor are relieved of their debts.

We know the expression “get rich by any means” Jesus is preaching here to give alms by all means! There is no need to bother with morality when it comes to giving to the poor, because money is inherently dishonest, so it falls short of good. Moreover, the master ends up congratulating the dishonest steward, because the sons of darkness, who are not stifled by good feelings, end up praising the one who is more dishonest than them.

The right attitude of the sons of light

We then understand why Luke linked the following two statements: they confirm this argument. The first describes by contrast what is the right attitude of the sons of light: unlike the two children of darkness in the parable who congratulate themselves on their skill, the disciples must be clumsy and therefore honest in all respects.

To attenuate the cynicism of Jesus’ statement, Luke qualifies it with another of his words; he therefore prefers to put his master in contradiction with himself rather than leaving such a provocative maxim without comment. As for the second affirmation, it makes explicit the vision of money that Jesus implied in his parable: money is totally incompatible with God.

Regis Burnet is professor of New Testament at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium). He notably published Decode a religious painting. New Testament and the Book of Revelation (editions of Cerf).

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Bible Meditation: Disciples and Money

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