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The Dishonest Steward / The Shrewd Manager

I am sorry to say that only last week there was a news story about a dishonest steward; a newspaper ran a report (so far unsubstantiated) about members of the Commonwealth Development Corporation eating out, on expenses, at Michelin starred or at least very expensive restaurants when they ought to have been using the money to fund start-up businesses in the poorest areas of the world. We are so used now to such stories that this might almost have passed unnoticed but it has been announced that there is to be an enquiry.

These things are always awkward: last year one of my key staff who was responsible for running the fleet of company cars resigned to go for an even more senior job in another firm. I was happy for him, he needed to get on and manage his career development but in winding up his affairs, before he left, I discovered that he had badly abused his position by having unapproved extras added to his own company car. The rules were clear, you could have “a go-faster stripe, a fancy sound system or perhaps a big boot handle” but you had to get approval and you had to pay for it yourself. He had not done either and had added the increased cost to the lease charges being paid by the company. My colleagues in Human Resources were inclined to say “Well it is too late now, and he is leaving anyway, there is nothing to be done.” I was of a different opinion. So I called the fellow in to my office and we had a difficult conversation during which I said to him “Look, you know you broke the rules (after all he and I had written them together), what are you going to do to put it right?”

Today’s Gospel brings us exactly into this situation - Bibles that have headings often call this passage “The parable of the shrewd manager”, but others call it “The parable of the dishonest steward”, and if you have a mind to, there are pages of commentary to be studied about these thirteen verses . We are it seems somewhat ambivalent about the man and the reading itself is perplexing for as we heard the “Master commended the dishonest manager for he had acted shrewdly.” it is a puzzle but what is helpful, I think is to look closely at the last few verses and the three sayings we find there:

  • Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much
     
  • Whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much
     
  • You cannot serve God and wealth - this is more usually quoted of course in the King James’ version : “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon”

Taken all together these teachings seem to be saying that we must be faithful and honest in the use of all wealth, great and small if we are to truly serve God.

And this is where my man fell down - I didn’t object especially to his wanting a luxurious, flashy motor car but I did object to his obtaining it by dishonest use of someone else’s money. I don’t object particularly either to the CDC man wanting to eat well, but again he should not do so via an unfaithful use of funds.

Pope Benedict the sixteenth has been with us this week bringing religion, refreshingly, to the top of the news bulletins and among other things he has been exhorting us who believe to speak out about our faith - and I agree with him - I agree too with Rowan Williams who in support of the message said

“We, by which he meant Christians, want to play our part in the public debates of our societies”, but you know it is not just those in the public arena that have this responsibility.

What made my conversation with my employee much easier was the fact that he knew I was a Christian, that we were discussing a matter of moral principle and in the end despite his initial objections he repaid the sum.

You see, the way we act, the way we, ordinary people, consistently portray our Christian values in our neighbourhoods, our schools, playgrounds and workplaces is important and is noticed by those around us. Very often it is the small things we do or say that have more value than mega events.

As Jesus said: “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.”

Amen

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