At first glance, today’s gospel sounds rather disturbing. “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings,” Jesus tells his disciples. He had just shared a parable about a dishonest steward and his master. It sounds as though Jesus is instructing his disciples to be as dishonest as that steward. This, of course, is not the message. What Jesus is saying is that we ought to use our spiritual wisdom with the same zeal and commitment as the steward used his dishonest business wisdom.
And while Jesus’ parable is ostensibly about money, it really is more about values. It is quite possible to be wealthy and still enjoy God’s favor. The question is not about how much money one has, but about how much one loves money and clings to it. Jesus was challenging a popular belief of the times, that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, and poverty a sign of God’s displeasure – the prosperity theology popular even to day among some Christians. Perhaps, this is why the Pharisees “sneered” at Jesus. The word “sneer” in the Greek is ekmykterizo, and it means literally to turn one’s nose up at someone. The Pharisees’ turned up their noses at Jesus’ warning about serving God or serving one’s wealth and possessions.
Mammon will do no good in the kingdom. This currency will have no value. True wealth comes from faithfulness in serving God and others. The disciples of Jesus – that includes us – are called to use our resources generously so that when it’s gone, we will be welcomed into the kingdom. But what is the welcome Jesus is referring to? Is it the welcome of the angels and saints? The rabbis of old may have the answer with their saying: “The rich help the poor in this world, but the poor help the rich in the world to come.” That would be joyful welcome indeed.
A final thought. Some may believe this gospel isn’t for them, since they’re not wealthy. True, most of us may not have great financial wealth. But we all have another kind of wealth, a more valuable wealth, like love, forgiveness, and compassion. This is the wealth all can share with the poor. This is the true coin of God’s realm. Now who can turn their nose up at that wealth?
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.