Today’s Gospel reading is an uncomfortable one for us to hear.
A trusted servant mishandles his master’s property. After being caught, he worries that he will have to labor or beg to support himself. So he plans to ingratiate himself with his master’s debtors, ensuring he will find a warm welcome after he departs his master’s service. And his master, perhaps acknowledging the clever scheme, commends his dishonest servant.
And Jesus commends this story to his disciples, and us: “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
It is uncomfortable to hear that we should be more like the dishonest manager. But if we strip away all the details of this story—the manager’s dishonesty, opportunism, and abuse of authority—what remains? A man finds himself in trouble, reflects on and names his desire, and works to achieve it. If you’ve ever set a goal for yourself, I’ll bet this script sounds familiar.
It would be easy to stop there and say that we as followers of Jesus should be more like the manager in finding opportunities amid challenges. But the details of this story remain, and they are uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, perhaps, because we see too much of the manager in ourselves. Uncomfortable, perhaps, because we recognize that although we strive to be children of light, we are often stuck being children of this world.
I think Jesus invites us not so much to find opportunities amid challenges as to own up to our inner manager—that part of us that is “set on earthly things”—and to desire to transform it.
What do you desire? A new job, a physical change, a vacation (or a silent retreat)? What do you desire? And in achieving it, what do you hope will change? Our desires often bespeak a more fundamental yearning for an inner transformation; that, in fulfilling them, we will be different. But after planning and sacrificing and maybe achieving our goals, how often do we find ourselves unchanged? The dishonest manager achieved security, but he remained dishonest. How uncomfortable to know that, even in fulfilling our desires, we remain, at our core, the same.
Or, maybe, how comforting to know that. How comforting to know that what we desire to become does not depend on our own efforts. We are not the manager, struggling alone to transform our circumstances. We are not alone. God is with us and, as Saint Paul assures us, God can change us: Christ “will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.”
We learn from the children of this world to name our desires and to work to fulfill them, but to be children of light—to be agents of God’s kingdom on earth—we must be in conversation with God. Rather than, “what do I desire,” ask God, “what do you desire for me?” Rather than, “how can I change myself,” ask God, “how can I be open to you changing me?” Bring your desires to God, and bring God into your desires, and take comfort knowing that God will transform them, and you.
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