When The Hero Is a Scoundrel

4 November 2005. Friday of the 31st Week
Luke 16, 1-13: The Wise Steward

The parable of the wise steward is very disturbing: the hero is a scoundrel. He is a slave running his master estate. And he has a case of embezzlement which threatens his job. For fear of losing his work, the steward falsified the books so the entries were less than what the debtors owed. For example, the debtor who owed one hundred measures of oil, the steward placed 50 in his invoice; likewise to the one who owed a hundred measures of wheat, the steward wrote in the bill, eighty. This is blatant cheating. Nevertheless, the debtors were grateful to him and they become partners in crime: the debt of gratitude now binds them. And instead of being shocked by what the steward did, the master appreciated the brains behind it. Does this mean that we should therefore be like this shrewd cheat?

I guess the point of the parable is attached to the final verse: “The sons of the world are wiser in their generation that the sons of light.” If only we would be as eager, ingenious and creative in our attempt at goodness as those who commit evil. If only we give much time and effort to do what is good, as much as we spend time and effort for our self-absorption.

For example, there are a hundred and one ways to cheat in classroom exams: short notes written in codes placed on one’s handkerchief, the underside of school uniforms, on the armchair, at the blackboard. Some have resorted to texting, or to hand gestures. Merong umuubo para sa multiple-choice: isang ubo para sa (a), dalawang ubo para sa (b), at kung ‘all of the above’, may kasamang tunog sumusuka. At hindi lang sa classroom: if we look at the larger picture, our government has mastered the art of cheating. What is your own cheating method?

Iba’t iba din ang paraan ng pananakit. The methods of hurting someone can be gleaned from the number of words that are nuanced in the dictionary.

1. Pisikal: hinahampas, sinasampal, binubugbog, kinukurot sa singit/tenga, pinupukpok, tinatadyakan, sinisipa, binabatukan, kinukutusan, sinasabunutan.
2. Salita: sinisiraan, minumura, nilalait, inaalipusta, iniinsulto, tsinitsismis.
3. Kilos: hindi pinapansin, parang wala, deadma, kesehoda, iniirapan, tinataasan ng kilay, tinitingnan nang masama.
4. Sa texting: maraming mga ugnayan ang nabuwag dahil sa text. May nagpapadala ng korona ng patay sa kanyang kaaway.

A further proof that many people are creative in doing evil is the fact that television shows like Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) and 24 have become great hits. The number of episodes and the number of seasons broadcasted are illustrations of the hundred and one ways the “people of this world” do to promote evil.

The parable thus poses this question to us: if they can be creative in their evil ways, why can’t we be creative in being good? Kung magaling tayong mang-away, dapat mas magaling tayo sa pagbubuklod.

There are many professors with a doctoral degree who are boring teachers. Why can’t they be better teachers, using creative methods? Is it because of age, or is it a matter of being open to new ways?

There are many liturgists who are allergic to creative liturgies. Many of them forget that their God is the God of the Living and not the God of the books. Vatican II says that liturgies should promote the active participation of the congregation and should adapt to the culture of the people. If the mass becomes a stiff show, we may lose the younger generation.

In other words, we are challenged to find better and effective means to proclaim the Gospel. It is a matter of perspective. The Jesuits use a principle: tantum quantum. If the method leads to the glory of God use it; if not, then don’t. If many churchgoers are in the ‘middle ages,’ perhaps it is better to sing the traditional songs. But if the churchgoers are mostly teenagers, then songs with rhythm might be best. They call this the pastoral principle. I call it the virtue of flexibility and discernment.

We should all remember that methods may change, but the content of faith doesn’t. The Gospel pushes us to respond urgently: we know that the good will ultimately overcome evil and that salvation is already guaranteed, but we must not forget our participation in such a grace. Let us therefore hone our creativity or else we may not be able to contribute much in the coming of the Kingdom. Better be like a soldier in battle, than be like someone who would just wait for victory to come.

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