You cannot do a kindness too soon,
for you never know how soon it will be too late.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
This parable about the shady steward is one of the most puzzling Jesus told. Not only does this steward get away with bribing the master’s debtors by reducing their debt, but his boss praises him for being shrewd!
What’s the moral for us? … What’s the takeaway from this odd parable?
Maybe it’s right before our eyes.
Jesus praises the steward for forgiving the debtors their debts. Isn’t forgiving our debts precisely what Jesus came to do? Isn’t the steward, in an odd way, doing what Jesus did?
Remember the Our Father. We Catholics say, "forgive us our trespasses," but many Christians say, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Jesus taught us this prayer; it's how his heart works, it’s how he thinks. Maybe this story is about the shrewdness of forgiveness.
When our Master asks for an accounting of our life, what will we have to show Him? Maybe this bad steward got it right and Jesus wants to find us forgiving our debtors their debts. The shrewd thing he is calling us to do is - forgive others - like the steward forgave his Master's creditors. That's our calling.
Everything we own is a gift from God. God is the owner of everything, and we are His stewards. Our call is to use the Master’s resources to further the Master’s goals. In this specific case, he is calling us to be generous with His gifts to benefit others. Our call is to make the debts of those around us lighter, to let them know we have a master who finds forgiveness praiseworthy.
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.'" Luke 13:6-9
The parable Jesus told isn’t really about a Fig tree. It’s a story about the Jewish people, God’s chosen people … and … it's a story about us too, we who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. All who call themselves Christians receive a call to bear fruit.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus says very clearly, “My Father's glory is shown by your bearing much fruit, and in this way, you become my disciples. John 15:8
Like that Fig tree, our job is to bear fruit for the master … for God.
Are we bearing fruit for God?
This thing we call religion isn’t a private thing; it’s a call to action. It’s a call to share the Kingdom of God with those around us.
God's Kingdom is all about fruitfulness.
Bearing fruit requires action. Action that results from developing a close relationship with God and knowing what He desires. It comes from an intimate, sensitive connection to Jesus. Jesus once said, "If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing." John 15:5
Apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ, it's impossible to bear fruit.
How is your relationship with Jesus?
Fruitfulness is Christlikeness. The definition of Christlikeness is a person who has qualities like Jesus Christ. Examples of Christlikeness are being kind, forgiving, sincere, and caring and being a person who produces healing. When we become more like Jesus, when He increases in our lives, we can deliver the fruit that honors God. Jesus is the nourishment we need to produce fruit.
Being Christlike means giving a human face to the gifts we receive through the sacraments. The gifts we speak of here are the “fruit of the Spirit” … love … joy … peace … patience … kindness … goodness … faithfulness … gentleness, and self-control. When we see these traits in our lives, we will begin to see the fruit.
The fruit God wants us to share is our faith, a faith that brings people to Him, including new believers and fallen away believers. That's the fruit Jesus wants.
Jesus is encouraging us all to till the soil of our faith and develop a Christ-like attitude full of … love … joy … kindness … attitudes we develop through studying the Bible and daily prayer time and being charitable, giving to those who need it.
That’s how we till the soil; that's how we bear fruit.
What God was saying to them is, "I am giving you life. It's a gift, enjoy it." God even told them to: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. I give you dominion over all the earth.” God was telling them, and us, to receive life as a gift, not as something we can acquire.
The original sin was a failure to respect the gift. Taking the apple represents the sin of wanting to be in control. The original sin was a failure in gratitude, a failure to appreciate the gift.
It is so important we realize everything is gift, including life itself. Nothing should be acquired as if it was ours by right. It's all gift. The highest compliment someone can give to the gift-giver is to enjoy the gift thoroughly. The highest praise we have to give to our God, our Creator, is to enjoy the gift of life indeed.
That is why Jesus during his time with us didn't need anything and lived so simply, he understood the gift. We all need to let go of the need to acquire – to take – and simply receive God’s gift of life.
At the end of the musical, as Jean Valjean lies dying before his beloved daughter Cosette and her husband-to-be Marius, he has a vision of Cosette's dead mother, Fantine. In this touching scene, Valjean commends Marius and Cosette to marry and reveals his long-held secret that he had spent his life running from the law. As Jean Valjean sings his last confession, Fantine appears to welcome him into heaven. Jean Valjean then experiences an almost beatific vision of the priest, surrounded gloriously in candlelight. At this moment, he utters one of the most beautiful lines ever written in a play:
"To love another person is to see the face of God."
The message from this excellent musical for us all is that one simple act of kindness has the power to transform a sinner into a forgiven saint. Even in his humble and lowly position, the priest became a vessel for Jean Valjean and, by extension, the audience to see the very face of God through his indefinable love for an embittered thief.
We can be like this good priest. We can show the face of God through our love. Too often, we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
Let’s all show the face of God by our loving kindness to one another!
If you have become bitter and sour, it is because when God gave you a blessing you hoarded it. Yet if you had poured it out to Him, you would have been the sweetest person on earth. If you are always keeping blessings to yourself and never learning to pour out anything to the Lord, other people will never have their vision of God expanded through you.
From the Gospel of Mark:
When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”
It’s never a good idea to test Jesus. His response to them was one we need to hear too. Jesus’ message this morning is that it’s unhealthy to fixate on some minor issue and miss the more important one. The Pharisees were focusing on the wrong thing. And Jesus got upset:
“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
Jesus was not criticizing or rejecting the Jewish law or even Jewish tradition. Jesus was a good Jew. He followed the law and loved it. He probably washed his hands before he ate. His point here is not to criticize the law but to remind his hearers that there are more important issues.
Many people in Jesus' time thought that religion was all about observing rituals, which they thought were pleasing to God. Not to observe them was to sin. In short, observing rituals became identified with being religious.
Jesus made it clear that religion isn't something you do at certain times on certain days. It's not saying specific prayers or performing certain rituals. It’s a thing of the heart. It’s a thing of the heart called love — love of God and love of neighbor. Today’s Scripture readings invite us to look into our hearts and to ask ourselves to what extent the words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading apply to us:
“These people honor me with their words, but their heart is far away from me."
They invite us to look into our own heart and ask ourselves to what extent the words of James in today’s second reading apply to us:
“Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”
We must never forget that Jesus uses our hands, feet, voice, and heart to touch people in our day. That’s what matters - what is in our hearts - and what we do about it.
We are being asked today:
Here is a question he put on my heart today for me:
Jesus is telling us today; it's unhealthy when we fixate on – some minor issue – and miss the more important one. This is what has Jesus upset in today's gospel. We are all in need of some “open-heart” surgery. Let us learn not to give our energy and attention to minor things but rather focus on the heart of the matter. Let us promise God not to criticize someone like the Pharisees did that day, before we explore what is on their heart.
My grandmother always had a saying that seems to fit every situation today she might have said to us:
"Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes."