I am impressed by ingenuity in many forms. A few years ago, I was working with students analyzing some Bach fugues, and the craft used in putting his music together is just as spell binding to contemplate as a theorist as to hear as a listener. I love stories about how various inventions came to be and the unlikely turns that made them possible. I also love the sitcoms of the ‘60s and the ingenuity there. Take Gilligan’s Island; the Professor can do just about anything with what’s lying around the island, but there’s one thing that bugs me when I see Gilligan riding in a pedal car or the Professor cooking up something that will save the day. If the Professor is so darn ingenious why couldn’t he just fix the boat?
Ingenuity plays a big role in today’s parable, but it’s a bit tough figuring out what Jesus is getting at with this story. We have a dishonest servant who’s going to get fired. He looks around and decides he has to do something to prepare for his future, so he undertakes a bit of creative bookkeeping in order to curry favor with some vendors in order to have folks owe him a few favors. The master, seeing all that has happened, congratulates the dishonest steward for his ingenuity. We don’t know whether he gets fired anyway, but it’s a twist we can appreciate. You could make that into a movie.
But what is Jesus trying to tell us with all this? It’s important when looking at individual parables to take the entire Scripture and Tradition of the Church into account, and there’s a lot of ways we can go into dangerous territory here. If we’re not careful, we can draw that conclusion that it’s all right to cheat people as long as it’s not too bad and we build up that elusive merit in heaven. We could also draw the conclusion that people of the Spirit won’t ever be as successful in business because they can’t be a devious as “worldly” people are, but that’s all right since we’re getting the better end of the stick. Looking for God in all of this is a bit difficult as well: try identifying any of these characters with God the Father or with Jesus and you’ll find that the nature of God isn’t quite what you expected it to be.
As we look at this story, I wonder how we use our ingenuity. Do we putter around the island making ourselves more comfortable out of what we have on hand, or do we use our ingenuity try to fix the boat.
It’s tempting to play the system against itself, I think that most of us try to do that as much as we can. There is nothing like getting what you want while playing by the strict letter of the law. However, the Ends never justify the Means, and as Christians, the Means are more important than anything else. Do we use our ingenuity to increase our ability to live as we should? Do we use our ingenuity to find was to live out the Gospel, to work around our problems with understanding the Life of Faith, to live each day as a faithful person without getting obsessed with details?
We are the stewards of the Kingdom: God’s work on earth will get done only if we do it. Our hands, our hearts, our minds, our ingenuity are Jesus’ hands, heart, mind and ingenuity at work in the world today. The meal we share today is the security that the dishonest steward was looking for when he was trying to set himself up for the future. We don’t have to set up our future with coming up with ways to make it happen. How do we use the ingenuity God gave us to help make the kingdom happen?