Sunday’s Gospel is one of my least favorite. It just doesn’t seem to make sense. You have a dishonest steward, caught in his dishonesty, who then is fired but allowed to keep working for a short while. In that short while, he calls in the master’s debtors and writes new promissory notes for reduced amounts and is then commended by the very master who fired him for being dishonest in the first place!
Make sense? Yeah, sure. It sounds a bit like divorce court.
Get tired of your spouse. Cheat on your Marriage. Fire your (faithful) spouse through divorce. Have a judge write up some paperwork to break the civil contract required for this Sacramental bond and reward the dishonest spouse financially, materially, and in time with children.
Welcome to the realities of no-fault divorce, where no one is believed innocent because everyone’s guilty, but it’s nobody’s fault because individuals are entitled to happiness (others be damned!), and where the guilty party, male or female, is usually the one most heavily rewarded. Sound convoluted?
Check out typical divorce scenarios…
A midlife man walks away from his family to pursue a paramour unencumbered by responsibilities like children and housework. He keeps his job and is angry about paying child support while not sympathizing with his wife, who gave up her career to care for him and their children, who will never recoup lost earning potential, and who now has no healthcare, no retirement, no ability to provide financially for children the court says are expected to “maintain the same standard of living.”
Worst of all, she must hand over the children who are a part of her to this stranger. Worse even than that, is that as the years drag on, this woman who wanted nothing more than to be a wife and mother finds herself weary, defeated, and exhausted in ways her married and single friends will not understand and pained by warring emotions of guilt and thanksgiving, loneliness and solitude, dread and desire for those nights free of children and responsibility.
An immature wife seeks adventure in the arms of a lover and chooses adultery over her husband and children. The courts award her with access to bank accounts, home titles, and retirement plans while her husband is left wondering how the financially secure future he worked so hard for, and which many mistakenly measure personal worth by, has slipped so quickly through his fingertips. He wonders how so much of his identity has been squandered by someone he trusted so deeply. Walls rise around his heart and he refuses to trust completely again. He is forced to care for children in a way he never imagined, becoming mother and father, disciplinarian and boo-boo kisser, chef and chauffeur. He diagnoses fevers and takes days off of work few colleagues understand. He knows firsthand the disparity between resources available to single moms and those available to single dads.
Worst of all for an abandoned husband is handing over the children who have become his world to a woman who chooses part-time supervising over full-time mothering. It’s looking at her and knowing he would have given her the moon if he could have, but it wouldn’t be enough. It’s knowing he chose someone who could change so drastically, putting her family at risk and putting herself first despite the children needing her so desperately. It’s explaining to children why mommy chose to leave when he knows no answer makes sense because he’s asked the same questions hundreds of times in the deepest, darkest parts of his secret nights. It’s coming to terms with how a woman, the softer, gentler sex, a woman he chose to love eternally, a woman who promised to love unconditionally, can harden her heart and give pieces of herself to others when she should be giving all of herself to God and her family.
And the court system,
like the master in the Parable of the Dishonest Steward,
seems to reward cheating, dishonesty, and self-promotion,
making it REALLY hard to find good in the courts
and to comprehend this Gospel reading.
Learning to Like The Parable of the Dishonest Steward
It took me a week to write this. I may have actually started it mentally years ago because this story always rubbed me the wrong way, yet I never quite found time to reflect, research, or pray on exactly what it means.
Usually, I post one Gospel reflection each week and then one refection on a personal story or something else I hope will lift hurting hearts. This week I posted I Stole a Grape and Broke the Law about this very same Gospel reading. God spoke to my heart, and I knew pretty clearly what I was to say. I could have left it with that, but the rest of the passage nagged at me, begging me to make sense of that which didn’t make sense, and eventually through thought and work and study, things came to light. I’m not sure I’ll explain this well, but here goes it…
Children of This World. Children of the Light
We are all two things: children of this world and children of the light. As children of the world, we are concerned about ways of this world. We watch what we eat. We are picky about books we read and media outlets we follow. We choose where, how, and in whom we invest time, money, and resources. We hope to leave legacies of good health and good fortune to our children, so we watch what they do, who they hang out with, how much studying they do, and what activities they participate in even more closely than we do our own. We, as children of the world, are cognizant of how cruel the world can be and do our best to protect loved ones from experiencing lessons we learned the hard way.
As children of the light, we desire more than the darkness of this world but know when we try to bring light through our own efforts alone, we are failures. The child of this world that lives in each of us meets that accusation in protest. It goes against everything a child of this world wants to admit about him or herself, and yet, it is true. We know we are limited even in protecting those we love most from the darkness of this world, especially the greatest darkness, the loss and subsequent absence of love. In our efforts to shield loved ones from such darkness, we discourage them from trusting, from surrendering, from giving completely of themselves, of loving and being loved fully. We offer limited protection from darkness of being cheated, but we also cheat them of warmth found in the light and benefitting from good those lessons bring. In our understandable, well-intentioned desire to protect loved ones from loss we’ve experienced, we assume their fate will be the same as ours and we prevent them from experiencing joy and beauty and love others experienced and that perhaps they were destined to enjoy.
As children of the world, we seek happiness in temporal pleasures, in financial security, in material possessions, in fast cars, big houses, and fantasy vacations. We seek happiness in how others view us and how powerful we seem to be, how able we are to manipulate circumstances to match our desires. We seek happiness in sexual encounters and short-term gratification. We are prideful of how hard we work, how smart we seem, and how much we earn when lesser men and women would have failed or simply given up and walked away.
As children of the world, we rejoice in material things and personal accomplishments that eventually crash around us, whether in our lifetime or in our death. They are not ours to have and to hold eternally. We think they belong to us, that we earned them, but that is dishonest, for all truly good comes from God who loves us and wants us to be truly happy, even Joyful.
As children of the light, we know we should let go of the hold finances, material goods, personal pride, and private temptations have over us, but we hold onto them. We know we should release them rather than keeping them gathered in our arms so that our arms (and our minds and hearts) are too full to inherit or pass on what is truly valuable, priceless, immeasurable, irreplaceable – the honest wealth of Mercy, Forgiveness, Strength, Courage, Hope, Compassion, Love…
As children of the world, we make friends who advance our desires. We talk to people at work who have similar career goals. We associate with parents on the ball field who have similar dreams for their children. We date and socialize with people who make us laugh and stimulate us intellectually and sexually. We have heated political discussions in safe places with people who agree with our views. We seek out those who will further our will for this world.
As children of the light, we know we should seek friendships that challenge us to seek God’s will in this world. We should seek friendships that challenge us to do perform more Corporal Works of Mercy: more feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, caring for the sick… We know we should seek out friendships with those Saints who have gone before us and those Angels living in Heaven. We know we should learn from them how to grow closer to God and seek their intercession as we do our earthly friends. Most of all, we should fight temptation by aligning ourselves with the Father’s Commandments, with Jesus’ example of self-sacrifice, commitment, and unconditional love, and with the Holy Spirit’s ever-present position in this world.
As children of the world, we can be self-righteous and hypocritical, claiming to be good believers because we go to Church every Sunday or do not take the name of the Lord in vain or follow the letter of the 10 Commandments even if we don’t follow the deeper spirit of them.
As children of the light, we know there is more. We know, for example, taking Commandments at face value does not free us from restrictions but cheapens the greatness of fulfillment they call us to. For instance, taking, “Thou shall not commit adultery,” to mean only the actual act of sexual intercourse rather than as looking lustfully at another and committing adultery with her in your heart ( ) or finding the concepts of adultery to be antiquated and virginity as something to “get over,” we overlook the gift of sexuality in favor of the act of sexual intercourse. We lessen the gift of our bodies and the bodies of those we desire as created in the image and likeness of God for our pleasure and His Glory. We long to experience the beauty and trust of building a relationship before and beyond sex, a relationship proven to last even if one of the couple is sick or hurt and sex can’t be counted on because it has already lasted beyond sex. We miss out on experiencing sacrificial waiting, increasing anticipation, and finally the giving and taking fully of yourself with your spouse in total respect, trust, and love with nothing held back. We never realize we’ve robbed ourselves of what might have been, of discovering that Blessed coming together of two flesh, long-anticipating and quivering in their desire to become one in Marriage as the ultimate climax of love.
The Divorce Court System & the Child In Each of Us
I am both a child of this world and as a child of the light. I see the battle within as each wishes to gain control and lead me to my eternal dwelling, and I know the truth behind the verse:
No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and Mammon.
~ Luke 16: 13
I think back to days in court, when all I had worked so hard for slipped through my fingertips, when I was betrayed by the man I loved, the man I would have gladly given my life for, the father of my children, and where I was also betrayed by the court system I naively believed was designed to protect people like my children and me.
I see how much a child of this world I am, and how big a battle I face to become more a child of the light.
I see the court system dividing assets which should have rightfully been mine and my children’s. I see the court system rewarding my ex’s bad behavior. I see our income levels, through no fault of my own, far below most of my friends and family and certainly below my ex’s. I know for the rest of my life I will probably work harder and still have less.
I get upset about what is “rightfully mine,” all that dishonest wealth that so many envy: big homes, financial security, vacations, intelligence, health, so many things. I see how often I have looked at something I earned and been prideful of it or angry to have it taken away, how often I see something as mine when it really belongs to the Creator, how often I have taken praise but forgotten to give thanks, how often I think my achievements, my accomplishments, my certifications, my family, my friends, my wealth, my house, the decorations within, are mine because I earned them and I deserve them.
All those “little” things with a great hold over me need to be turned over to the Lord. Assuming they are mine is dishonest. They don’t belong to me anymore than they belong to my ex or anyone else.
Sometimes we can be worse than the dishonest steward,
seeking to hold onto even dishonest wealth.
But there are also times my experience in court helped me become more a child of the light. The dishonest steward took his failings and resulting bad circumstances and used them to do good and to form new relationships. He used what belonged to the master to lift himself and others. He gave away dishonest wealth, but maybe he hoped to give away and gain something else. Maybe there are lessons for the cheated here too.
Standing up for oneself in divorce, and in other circumstances is not always easy and often requires a tight line to be walked. We must, MUST, stand up for what is right and what we need. Too often the shell-shocked, innocent party acquiesces only to later feel understandable but detrimental bitterness and resentment. Standing up for yourself is vital especially as we understand concepts such as to whom much is given much is expected (Luke 12: 35-48), the power of being created with a spirit of strength and courage (2 Tim 1: 7), putting on the armor of God (Eph 6: 10-17), and so much more we are called to.
At the same time, standing up for ourselves is not all we are called to. The Parable of the Dishonest Steward calls us to more. It calls us to look at the gift (gulp) yes, gift of an unjust court system and the power of God to do good even in bad. Think of the relationships the steward developed with those who owed the master. Think of the relationships your trials have brought to you. Think of the people you would not have met had you been a married individual (see the oxymoron there?). Think of the love you’ve discovered but wouldn’t have found if life had continued without that major curveball thrown your way. Think of the strength and abilities you’ve discovered you didn’t know you had. Think of the trust you’ve learned to value on a deeper level and of those precious few you choose to share your trust with now.
What you gain can be far more than the dishonest wealth a dishonest spouse gains.
I am not in any way diminishing the hurt or injustice of divorce. What I am saying is do not let it poison your mind or embitter your heart. You have a right to be angry and hurt and worse, but that only satisfies the child of this world for a little while.
The child of light that is inside you still craves more, and that more is found when you give away what the Master treasures most, honest wealth – Mercy, Forgiveness, Strength, Courage, Hope, Compassion, Love…
Love many, but trust few and then love those few more deeply. Rejoice in them and generously give the lasting goodness of honest wealth. Pity and pray for those who will never give away honest wealth because they never stop trying to amass dishonest wealth.
Understand that honest wealth comes more often through trial and surrender than through luxury and control. Understand that honest wealth, like any wealth, is not yours to hoard but a gift to use for good. Understand that unlike finite material wealth, there is no set, predetermined amount of honest wealth and that it increases as it is given away.
Understand that you too can be like the dishonest steward in some ways and that maybe there is more than what originally appears in this parable. Understand that you too can give away good things, honest wealth. Things such as Mercy and Forgiveness and Love that seem impossible to attain are well within your grasp because they do not belong to you but to a generous God. When you seek Him He offers honest wealth to you in abundance so that you may generously gift it to others. You too can give mercy and kindness, compassion and truth, patience and forgiveness, and most of all you can give love.
And maybe the best thing about giving away this honest wealth is that by doing so you truly gain the greatest wealth of all, the Master’s approval.
And, as always, thanks for commenting, liking, following, and sharing!
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