Don’t Cheat God

User's Guide to Sunday, Sept. 18


Sunday, Sept. 18, is the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Readings: Amos 8:4-7, Psalms 113:1-2, 4-8; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13 or 16:10-13

What extras in your life are you holding back?

Today’s Gospel is hard to understand until you know important facts. Then everything falls into place, and you can recognize yourself in the story.

Jesus tells the Parable of the Unfaithful Steward, who is squandering his master’s property. His master fires him and asks for a final balance sheet. The steward responds by arranging to deeply slash the amounts owed to his master in order to gain favor with his master’s debtors.

But the master doesn’t get mad at him for squandering yet more money: He praises him. So does Jesus. Why?

The two things to realize are these: First, the only source of income stewards in those days had was what they could scam from the way they managed their masters’ goods. It was an accepted practice, but this steward’s wildly high overcharging was just another reason he was an “unjust steward.”

Think of the steward like a biblical-era credit-card company — or “payday loan” scam — offering money to people and then charging enormous amounts of interest. Suddenly, you see what kind of person we are dealing with, and you appreciate his conversion.

He is like the merchants who receive a warning in today’s first reading from the prophet Amos. These are people who can’t wait to fix the scales to get more from their customers than they deserve. They plan to overcharge people for necessities of life. They plan to mix the chaff in with the wheat to make it seem like they are selling more than they really are.

“Never will I forget a thing they have done!” says the Lord.

The crooks in the first reading desperately need a lesson from the steward in the Gospel. He changed his ways, fixed his accounts and made things fair. Yes, he had mixed motives for doing it. But he did it all the same.

He took a step toward being “trustworthy in small things” so that he would be trusted with greater things, as Jesus puts it. The steward changed the way he valued money: He was no longer holding back extra for himself. He was putting it all at the service of his master and the community.

This is a lesson many of us need to learn.

What are the extras in our lives? What scale do we have our thumbs on? What diluted wheat are we selling? Are we playing at a life of faith but looking out for ourselves?

Do we say we want to serve God with our money, but then spend so much on extra niceties for ourselves that we can’t help others as much as we know we should? Are we helping the poor, minus the amount of the new dress in our closet? Are we helping our troubled family member, minus what we will need for the unnecessary technological gadget we have been craving?

And how about our time? Do we give God our undiluted time — or do we mix some chaff in, checking phone notifications during Mass or prayer? Do we give family undiluted time?

As with the steward, these are the small things we need to be faithful with, in order for God to trust us with more. We can’t cheat God. He will always see through such motives.


Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

His book, What Pope Francis Really Said, is available for preorder at

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