Commentary on the Gospel of
Today’s readings begin with concluding comments from Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. This letter is quite long and full of challenging statements, some of which might even be characterized as indictments. Consider Romans 2:1: “Therefore, you are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things.” One finds it hard to conclude that Paul must be talking about someone else after reading that statement.
Despite these “bold” admonishments from the Apostle, today’s reading begins with an encouraging and even optimistic statement about his intended readers: “I myself am convinced about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another.” (Romans 15:14). After reading his letter, I would not exactly feel full of goodness, but instead a little challenged and in need of the grace and mercy proclaimed in the gospel message. But perhaps Paul’s statement is also bringing truth to us that we desperately need: despite our sinful tendencies, goodness can also be found in our midst, and we can know what that goodness looks like.
Knowing and recognizing such goodness – a capacity that the Holy Spirit shares with us through a well-formed conscience -- becomes an instrument to help us live out our faith. Paul also mentions the capacity to admonish one another – which entails instructing, warning, and correcting about the risk of straying from the path of goodness (or perhaps only leaning that direction) – which is part of that formation process.
In today’s gospel, our Lord demonstrates admonishment through a perplexing story. I sometimes mention this parable to my students, as it presents the problem of faithless agents and a lack of internal controls within the master’s accounting system. But after digging a little deeper into biblical scholarship, I also found another angle: perhaps the steward was not giving away the master’s property rights, but instead disgorging his own commissions – the extra “vig” he imposed on the customers. This casts new light on the parable, which Jesus uses to admonish us about wisdom in using our earthly resources. Perhaps the steward is doing just that – rather than committing further injustice against his master (while conspiring with customers)!
As Paul suggests, even people full of goodness may need admonishment from time to time. Perhaps we can get a little too full of our goodness for our own good! Focusing on thanksgiving, mercy, and goodness that comes from the works of God in our midst can help us escape this trap. And perhaps effective admonishment also comes from examples of living out and honoring goodness, albeit imperfectly. I would venture that most of us do not like being admonished – particularly if it comes with being judged. But we often need things we do not like. The medicine we need in this life is sometimes bitter, not sweet.
Lord, help us accept your admonishments and live wisely in light of the truth and goodness we know, but sometimes fail to execute. And when we fail, help us to flee to your tender mercies, knowing that your love endures forever. Amen.