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Parables, Puzzlement, and Prudence

On the Readings for Sunday, September 18, 2022.

"Prudence" (c. 1556-60) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (

• Am 8:4-7
• Ps 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8
• 1 Tm 2:1-8
• Lk 16:1-13

How difficult is the parable of the dishonest steward, heard in today’s Gospel reading? “Of all of Jesus’ parables,” writes New Testament scholar Dr. Craig L. Blomberg in Preaching the Parables (Baker Academic, 2000), “this is probably the most puzzling. It is certainly the one on which more scholarly ink has been spilled than any other.”

There probably is no need for “probably”; in my opinion, this is indeed the most puzzling of the parables. It has a similar structure to the parable of the unforgiving, or ungrateful, steward (Matt 18:23-35; Lk. 7:41-43), with three levels of social status: the master, the steward, and the debtors. But whereas the parable of the unforgiving steward is straightforward in its moral message—if you wish to receive forgiveness, you must extend forgiveness—the moral and message of the parable of the dishonest steward is not immediately clear.

First, the steward, who has misused his master’s money and so faces the loss of job and status, uses dishonest means in order to open doors for future prospects. He doesn’t admit his guilt, ask for forgiveness, or attempt to make matters right. Secondly, having changed the amounts due on the promissory notes (and thus ingratiating himself to the debtors), the steward is—shockingly—commended by his master.

Why? Because he had, Jesus said, acted prudently.

At this point, many readers might understandably move from being puzzled to being perplexed. It seems that Jesus not only presented a parable condoning dishonest and self-serving behavior, but had actually praised it! But St. Augustine, in preaching upon this parable, stated that Jesus “surely did not approve of that cheat of a servant who cheated his master, stole from him and did not make it up from his own pocket.”

So why, he asked, “did the Lord put this before us”? We must be careful to not miss what Jesus indicated was a key point of the parable: “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

And, in fact, Augustine writes that the parable is not meant to praise the sins of the steward but to extol him “because he exercised foresight for the future. When even a cheat is praised for his ingenuity, Christians who make no such provision blush.” Put simply, the parable extols shrewdness and ingenuity, and urges Christians to employ them for the sake of the Kingdom. It is very much a commentary on Jesus’ statement, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (Matt. 10:16). The Greek word denotes the virtue of prudence, that virtue which “disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1806).

Unfortunately, we can sometimes reject such shrewdness and prudence out of a sense of false piety, naivety, or fearfulness. Yet the Catechism, in speaking of prudence, says it “is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation.” As children of the light, we should seek to use every good and moral means available to us to build up the Kingdom of God, to proclaim the Gospel, and to defend the Catholic Faith. Yet, if we are honest, we recognize how timid and unsure we often are, especially in the face of the questions and attacks presented by the children of this world. “Instead of being as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves,” Blomberg rightly states, “we become as wicked as serpents and as dumb as doves!”

In order to have and to increase prudence, we should always keep in mind Jesus’ concluding exhortation: “No servant can serve two masters.” Prudence is “right reason in action,” which means it is rooted in right priorities and the knowledge that we are not of this world, but are children of light and children of God.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the September 19, 2010, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Luke 16:1 The Parable of the Dishonest Steward.

    I have seen these “Dishonest Stewards”! I have actually even done business with them. They are our precious Catholic Priests.

    If you have a debt to God, in which you could never in a septillion lifetimes work to repay, go visit your local Catholic Priest, he will work something out for you.

    “And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently”

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 1448
    Tell souls where they are to look for solace; that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy (the Sacrament of Reconciliation). There the greatest miracles take place (and) incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to him one’s misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no (hope of) restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full. Oh, how miserable are those who do not take advantage of the miracle of God’s mercy! You will call out in vain, but it will be too late.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 699
    I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.

  2. In the holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is this venerated slab of rock where they took the lifeless torn and pierced body of Jesus from the Holy Cross and laid him on the stone bed into the dust of the earth. There God himself laid who made Himself our eternal sacrifice. You could even say that Jesus Christ Himself is a ‘dishonest steward” of Divine treasures as He gave Himself for love of His creatures and cheated on His own divine justice. Yet God is Love; pure unconditional love searching the human hearts that love Him and adore Him with grateful affection. In the true church, the sacraments of salvation of humanity especially the confessional is holy ground to transform us into the children of light.

  3. Was there ever a man as truthful and courageous? The light of world and saviour to all who would believe in Him.
    Glorious, wonderful and able to save to the uttermost! Let us proclaim the name of Jesus.

    Romans 1:1- Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, …

    Proverbs 2:1-22 My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. …

    1 Corinthians 16:13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

    1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

    Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

  4. Isn’t the German Church a modern version of the Parable of the Dishonest Manager? They want to write off all manner of sins. Fixing tickets is easier than fixing sinners.

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