Using Dishonest Wealth

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September 18, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

September 18, 2016
Luke 16:1-13
Fr. George Smiga

Today’s gospel is a series of sayings of Jesus that pull in different directions. So rather than trying to harmonize them, I would like to focus on just one: the one that I think is the most problematic. Jesus says, “I tell you: Make friends for yourself with dishonest wealth so that when it fails, you may be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” It sounds like Jesus is asking us to use dishonest wealth for our advantage. Isn’t this out of character for Jesus? Wouldn’t you expect Jesus to say, “Avoid using dishonest wealth. Only use wealth that is untainted by corruption”? That is what we would expect Jesus to say. But, he does not.

So why is Jesus advising us to use dishonest wealth? Because at times that is the only wealth we have. Wealth, of course, here means more than money. Wealth is resources, opportunities to act. Wealth is the choices that we make in order to live. And sometimes those choices are far from ideal. Sometimes the opportunities that we have are compromised, flawed, even tainted. But Jesus is telling us that it is better to use those opportunities, those choices, that wealth even if it is far from perfect.

We might have a strained relationship with a son or daughter, a child who has made some poor decisions, perhaps even illegal ones. Jesus tells us that it does us no good to wish we had a different son or daughter, someone who is better. Instead, Jesus asks us to use that flawed relationship, to exercise our role as a parent in those imperfect conditions. Even if we fail, he tells us it is worth the effort.

Your family may be characterized by divorce, perhaps even a divorce that you did not seek. Now whenever there is a family gathering—a wedding, a baptism—you must deal with painful relationships and face people you would rather avoid. Jesus says it does us no good to wish you had a happy and united family. Instead he asks us to take up the broken family that is ours and use as much patience, understanding, and love that you can to make things better rather than worse.

Look at the presidential race. We have two candidates who are the most unpopular in American history. It does us no good to wish we had other candidates. Jesus asks us to exercise our right to vote and to choose the better candidate (or the lesser undesirable candidate). It is better to make that imperfect choice than to throw up our hands and stay at home on Election Day.

When you don’t have the wealth you want, use the wealth you have. This saying of Jesus is difficult. It is a hard saying, and it makes no promises. It does not say that if we reach out to an estranged son or daughter, we will develop a wonderful relationship. It does not imply that our ex-spouse will be more pleasant. It does not promise that we will elect a great president. It calls us to do what we can.

Now, of course, from the perspective of faith, we have the consolation of knowing that God appreciates our intentions and honors our choices in flawed situations. We believe that God will find some way to bless us. But that aside, there is not much in Jesus’ saying that is satisfying. It simply tells us that in a compromised, flawed, and dishonest world, it is better to do the little that is possible than to do nothing at all.

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