There was a religious brother who worked at a small Catholic College in a small town. It had a lovely little campus dominated by the chapel with a water tower nearby. A Brother worked there for most of his life, living in community and being a jack of all trades, fixing things, keeping things neat, someone who keeps the world working. He had an odd personal tradition: on his birthday every year, he climbed the water tower. When he was a young man this wasn’t a problem, but he kept doing it into his 70s. On the morning of his 75th birthday, he was called into the Father Director’s office: “Brother, happy birthday. We appreciate your hard work for us over the years, but there is something we need you do for us since you’re getting older. I order you under Obedience not to climb the water tower today. You’re too old for us.”
The Brother didn’t react much. “Yes, Father Director, of course. I knew you were going to tell me this today. That’s why I climbed the water tower yesterday.”
It’s easy to admire somebody who can play the system, even Obedience to superiors. Playing the system seems to be all around us.
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?
Such ingenuity is displayed in non-violent peacemaking. I found this helpful description: “Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. it is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.” (Shaine Claiborne, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals) This is about finding a third way between fight or flight, a resolution of conflict that doesn’t perpetuate violence. It is about bringing healing to a situation, breaking out of a destructive cycle. It also takes more creativity, preparation, stamina, and determination than picking a side in a battle, or running from one.
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. Since we are freed from worry for ourselves, we can turn our attention to the world around us, to the wounds of our world that cry out for healing. How do we use the ingenuity God gave us to help make the kingdom happen?