Thou shalt not be caught!

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

25th Sunday in ordinary times

People generally perceive government employees as dishonest, as corrupt. The basis for this is their experience in transacting business with some government offices where hardly any thing moves unless money changes hands. This is true from top to bottom, the only difference being the amount. When a corrupt official is caught, he is blamed by his fellows not for the evil he did but for being caught. After all, he was supposed to live up to the eleventh commandment, namely, “Thou shalt not be caught.” No wonder international bodies tasked with classifying countries according to the degree of corruption therein ranks ours (the Philippines) high up in the list!

In today's gospel (Lk. 16: 1–13), Jesus gives us the parable of the shrewd manager. It was then the practice in Palestine that large estates were run by overseers or managers for absentee landlords. In the parable, the owner, discovering his manager's dishonesty, decided to fire him after an accounting was made. Before losing his job, the manager went to the estate's tenants who were supposed to give a share from their harvest — and reduced their dues so that when he would be fired, they would welcome him into their houses. The manager ensured his future security through dishonesty. He was shrewd to the end.

In the first reading, the prophet Amos thunders at the greedy rich who take advantage of the poor by lessening the content of a sack, tampering weighing scales, raising prices and even selling the sweepings with the wheat (Amos 8:1,4–7). Does this not remind us of some unscrupulous businessmen today, for example, those who hoard flour and sugar so they can raise prices and some market vendors who use inaccurate weighing scales? There appears to be no difference between the greedy rich in the prophet's time and their counterparts in today's world. To what extent people would go for money!

Jesus wants us to be trustworthy, beginning with small things: “He who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones....” Jesus knows that if we are faithful in small things, then we can also be faithful when facing big temptations, e.g., making big money dishonestly. Thus the absolute need to develop the habit of honesty.

Obviously, the manager is not presented to us as a model for integrity. But his shrewdness and tenacity are worthy of imitation in our service of God's Kingdom. For as Jesus had observed, while the manager was shrewd and tenacious in assuring his future, the “children of light” were not so in the pursuit of their heavenly security. Jesus is thus challenging His followers to be as shrewd in carrying out God's work.

Jesus also teaches us the proper use of money: “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 God and money.” No question about it, money is important. Moreover, money in itself is not evil. It is our attitude towards it and how we use it that can lead to evil. Thus Jesus is asking us to set our priorities right, namely, that God and not money should occupy first place in our lives.

We know of some people who have made money their god. There are those who engage in usury. How often have we heard a usurer justify what he does to a desperate father who needs money for his child's hospitalization by saying: “It was not I who approached him. He approached me. In fact, I did him good by helping him in his money problem.” He conveniently forgets that the borrower did not approach him because of his usurious rates but because of his need for money to bring his child to a hospital.

Then there are the drug lords and peddlers. They know that their merchandise can destroy not only the future of the young but even their life. Yet they continue bringing in and selling drugs. They do not care what will happen to the young as long as they make money.

People like these make money their god. How about us? We can discover our attitude to money by the way we us it. Do we pay enough to those who work for us so that they can meet the needs of their family? Or closer to home, do we pay our household help a decent salary? Do we not overwork them? For those of us who work, do we do justice to the pay we receive by always reporting for work on time and doing our work as conscientiously as we can?

The parable makes us reflect on the accounting we have to give to God for our stewardship of His gifts. In this regard, would it not be wonderful if we make the eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not be caught,” work for us? How? By never allowing ourselves to be caught doing a dishonest act and by putting God above everything else, including and specially above money.