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Working Practice and the Gospel

Sunday, September 23, 2001

Twenty-Fifth Sunday of the Year. Fr Jonathan Fleetwood preaches on Jesus' parable of the rich man and his estate manager.

Today's gospel asks us to look at some of our daily working practices and apply them in a religious context. There are good insights to be drawn from normal working practice, and lessons to be learnt.

The parable is about an estate manager who abuses his employer's trust, but is astute in looking after his own interests. We meet familiar elements of corporate organisation. We meet a manager, a sacking, a whistle blower, customers or clients, and the need for financial and narrative reporting. Both the parable and the wider section of the gospel refer to trusteeship.

The estate manager is dodgy. He is dodgy for many reasons. He is dodgy for wasting money. He is dodgy for not being able to account for the assets of the enterprise. He is dodgy, probably, for taking his own commission, kickbacks, on transactions.

The manager abuses the system by using the enterprise assets for his own ends. He abuses his own very good powers of prudential management for his own ends. He is a worldly manager using worldly wisdom concerning worldly wealth.

Management of money and wealth seems to draw to it abuse and odd motivations. We seem to show up our human uncertainties in some areas of life when we use slang or rude words, which indicate cultural fault lines. So it is with money and wealth. The verbal sediment collects: mammon, filthy lucre, lolly, dough, etc.

We also show up our view of life in any tally of our spending. We give priority to some ends of life in preference to others. Our orientation to property and money display our hopes in life. Some of these are likely to be disordered. Some of them are likely to be hidden from ourselves and in need of an occasional audit.

Like the dodgy manager we can get trapped into a cramped and blinkered view of life. We can get locked into money and property with their yield as ends in themselves. We can get locked into the use of our own skills as yielding reward just for ourselves. We experience a slippage in our vision of life. Our money has become an omen of bad tidings. Like a gauge or thermometer, it can show our control systems to be out of order .

In the gospel it is taken for granted that we should exercise trusteeship in all its good practices. We should use resources for their specified purposes. We should show our accountability in suitable figures and explanations. We should show judgement, foresight and care in what we are doing. Present-day good corporate practice develops safeguards in respect of these values of administration.

The full thrust of.this gospel says more than this. This section points beyond these everyday values. We exercise many skills about matters of property and money, but these matters cannot be ends in themselves nor a total security against all human risk. The very exercise of these skills we use in practical administration, if just for our own ends, are diminutions of ourselves.

Many of the categories we use in administration, wealth, prudence or wisdom, accountability, etc., can be applied in a wider and true analogy to our relationship to God. As he is our creator, we owe him everything. We are called to act as his trustees. All we have comes from him. We must be accountable to him. We must be assiduous. We must act for his ends and not just our own. We must use his gifts of prudence and foresight to do this.

We must not fall into a cramped, obsessive, view of possessions or a cramped, obsessive, view of our own practical strivings. The good of the manager, the good of the enterprise, the good of those for whom we hold trust, the good of society and the good of mankind before God and neighbour are all part of one connected whole.

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Readings

Amos 8:4-7
1 Tim 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13

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