Give Freely

"I know what I shall do" (Luke 16:3). 

Jesus expects his disciples to be faithful stewards of God's mercy. What does this mean? How are we to accomplish this? 

Jesus tells a curious story about an apparently dishonest steward. He has been squandering his master's property. Facing dismissal, the steward decides that the best way to survive is to cut deals with the master's debtors, discounting their debts generously while he is still in charge of the accounts. It is a shameful story, and the audience must have been prepared for the master to be furious. 

But, suprise, the master praises the dishonest steward for being so enterprising. So what is the message of the story?

One way to understand it is to put this parable into the context of Jesus' situation as his ministry runs into criticism from the relgious leaders. They have accused him of being too lenient with sinners, too generous with God's gifts. Jesus, they say, like the steward in the story, has been giving away the store, and the official leaders as guardians of the Law and upholders of God's honor do not like it. What will become of religion as a force for good if sinners are not punished? What will become of religious authority and control if God's love is being poured out on good and bad alike, offered freely to the virtuous and sinners alike? 

Could it be that Jesus wants his disciples to be stewards as enterprising as this "dishonest" steward, and as generous as Jesus himself was being? Was he saying and demonstrating that If anyone comes in need, be merciful, and not in some measured, calculating way, as though you are on control of mercy. No, it is God's gift, so if someone asks for it, open up the full treasury of God's unconditional love. Welcome everyone and invite them to take as much love and forgiveness as they want or need. Give away the store! 

Of course, this complicates the moral order and religion as a system of dispensing reward and punishment for virtue and vice. This throws off our calculus for determing who is good or bad, worthy or unworthy, winner or loser. But if God is this generous, no questions asked, who are we to limit the Source of Mercy from being merciful?  This is a scandal, but it is also the joy of the Gospel.