The evangelist Luke often shows a critical attitude towards money, riches and the accumulation of goods. Various Gospel’s passages of the summer Sundays are a confirmation of this: the parable of the rich fool, of the unfaithful steward, of the rich man, and so forth. For Luke, an evangelist sensitive to the situation of the poor and of the less well-to-do, riches often have the connotation of ambiguity, dishonesty, injustice, danger, little transparency… The warning is ever valid and present, as we are confronted by many forms of undue enrichment: speculations, usury, financial games, bribes, corruption, laundering of dirty money (Luke calls it dishonesty, v. 9.11) gained through drugs, mafia, kidnappings…
Since the fourth century, Christian tradition has understood the message of the value, use and danger of riches. Statements of some Fathers of the Church are eloquent and harsh. St. Basil writes: “Aren’t you a thief when you consider as your own the riches of this world, riches which were given to you only to be administered?” St. Ambrose: “We must not regard as riches what we cannot take with us. What we have to leave in this world, therefore, does not belong to us but to others”. St. John Chrysostom has a profuse and provocative teaching on this matter which we may summarise in this way: “The rich man is either a thief or the son of a thief”. We may not agree with such statements but it is wise to honestly reflect on them.
The ways of unjust and dishonest money are as ancient as humanity. The prophet Amos (I Reading), in the eighth century before Christ, a period of splendour in the kingdom of Israel, denounces with fiery words those who get rich by trampling on the poor and the needy (v. 4), to the point of “buying up the poor for money and the needy for a pair of sandals” (v. 6); they are anxious to make money through merchants tricks: playing with time and using false measurements and scales (v. 5). A thousand years later St. Basil echoes the same concern against the money-lenders of his time: “You exploit the poor, suck money from tears, strangle the naked and oppress the hungry”.
The steward Jesus speaks of in the parable (Gospel) is unfaithful and crafty. He is unfaithful because he has taken advantage of his master’s trust, squandered his goods, deserving his dismissal (v. 1-2). He has acted dishonestly, was deceitful and corrupt. About the unjust administration of the master’s goods the judgement is one of disapproval. This must be stressed, before we go on to the second part where, surprisingly, the steward is praised. The praise given by his mater (v. 8) and the remarks that Jesus draws from it, refer only to the craftiness with which he gets away, making friends for his uncertain future. (*)
In our days the praxis is different. The Jerusalem Bible, in v. 16:8 of Luke, explains that, according to the custom, then tolerated in Palestine, the stewards – who were not being paid – had the right to make up for it by making money on the percentage of the inflated loan granted to their maters’ debtors. The personal benefit of the stewards consisted precisely in the difference between the actual loan and the inflated amount. The crafty steward of the parable does not take away from his master anything of the actual amount due to him: he simply reduces the amount due by the debtor to the actual amount due to his master, renouncing to his own interest and promoting, he hopes, possible future friends, who thus just pay the master’s net debt, at no interest or usury. The craftiness of the steward, which is also praised by Jesus, consists in being able to renounce to an immediate economic interest in order to gain the advantage of making friends for the future. We find here an invitation to invest not so much on things that perish but on values that last. For Jesus such values are especially two: sharing the goods with the poor for the tents of eternity (v. 9) and freedom concerning things which enslave the heart (v. 13).
Here the invitation to openness of heart and sensitivity towards others is strong. This openness says Paul (II Reading), is prompted by the Heart of “God”, who “wants everyone to be saved and to come to know the truth” (v. 3-4). Really everyone: he repeats it four times (v. 220.127.116.11) to stress the generous project of God (v. 4), the work of Christ (v. 6), the universal dimension of Christian prayer (v. 1-2.8) and his call to be everywhere Christ’s messenger (v. 7).
The Pope's Words
(*) “Telling the Parable of the dishonest but very crafty steward, Christ teaches his disciples the best way to use money and material riches, that is, to share them with the poor, thus acquiring their friendship, with a view to the Kingdom of Heaven… Money is not dishonest in itself, but more than anything else it can close man in a blind egocentrism. It therefore concerns a type of work of conversion of economic goods: instead of using them only for self-interest, it is also necessary to think of the needs of the poor... Here one could open up a vast and complex field of reflection on the theme of poverty and riches, also on a world scale, in which two logics of economics oppose each other: the logic of profit and that of the equal distribution of goods, which do not contradict each other if their relationship is well ordered. Catholic social doctrine has always supported that equitable distribution of goods is a priority.”
Angelus - 23/09/2007
In the steps of Missionaries
- 20/9: SS. Andrew Kim Tae Gon, first Korean priest, Paul Chong Hasang, a lay person, and 101 other martyr companions of Korea (between 1837-1867): 93 Korean people (Fr. Kim and 92 laypeople) and 10 foreign missionaries (3 bishops and 7 priests).
- 21/9 Opening of the ordinary General Assembly at ONU: International Day for Peace.
- 21/9: St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist; according to tradition, he evangelised Persia, Syria and Ethiopia.
- 23/9: St. Padre Pio from Pietrelcina (1887-1968), Capuchin priest, endowed with special spiritual gifts, dedicated to the ministry of reconciliation and charity. He continues to have a strong missionary influence all over the world.
- 23/9: The Blessed Christopher, Anthony and John, youth martyred at Tlaxcala (Mexico, 1527-1529).
- 24/9: Blessed Virgin Mary of Ransom, a title that speaks of divine mercy and has inspired the missionaries in their struggle for the liberation of slaves.
- 24/9: Bl. Anthony Martin Slomsek (+1862), bishop of Maribor (Slovenia); dedicated himself particularly to the Christian formation of families and clergy, and promoted unity in the Church.
- 24/9: In memory of Mgr. Angelo F. Ramazzotti (Italy, 1800-1861), founder of the PIME.
- 25/9: St. Sergio of Radonez (Russian, 1313-1392): he was first a hermit, but later promoted community life in the monastery of the Holy Trinity in Moscow; he was sought after as a wise spiritual guide.