Who must listen?

This coming weekend is the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we looked at the virtue of preparedness as integral to the true spirit of discipleship. Since the beginning of Luke 12 Jesus has been admonishing and encouraging discipleship, but there seems to be some confusion as to the intended audience. In v.41: Then Peter said, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” Peter perhaps speaks for all the apostles when he asks about the parable.

Peter’s question may be meant to raise the question of the privileges and responsibilities of the apostolate. It certainly has relevance to the work of the ministry, a topic that would have been important to Luke’s readers. Both the disciples and the crowd of thousands are introduced in 12:1. In 12:13–14 Jesus responds to a man from the crowd. The sayings introduced in v. 22 are directed to the disciples; therefore, Peter’s question in v. 41 asks for clarification regarding the intended audience, but Jesus answers with another parable. Jesus does not answer directly, but draws attention to the responsibility of all servants, stressing that the greater the privilege the greater the responsibility (v.48)

And the Lord replied, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute (the) food allowance at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property. (Luke 12:42-44)

In v.42 Jesus used the house steward as the focal point on his response to Peter’s question.  As verses 43-46 make clear, the steward is also a servant, not only of the master but also one charged to serve the other servants. This freed the owner from routine administration and it meant that the steward necessarily had considerable freedom of action. If he was faithful and prudent” (v.42) he would see that the estate was properly run, which included making sure that all members of the household were duly fed. Jesus speaks of a situation wherein the master is absent but returns unexpectedly (v. 43). A diligent steward, whom his master found working efficiently when he thus returned suddenly, would be promoted (v. 44).

But not all stewards are “faithful and prudent.” The master’s prolonged absence might lead an imprudent steward into a false sense of independence. There was nothing to stop him from indulging his whims; after all he was in charge. Such false allusions lead the steward to stop being attentive to the return of the master – and when that master returns, the steward is caught unprepared. The result would be the punishment and one would assume a return to the role of ordinary servant – a punishment that entails the loss of privileges and comforts.  Yet Jesus is telling this parable in the light of his disciples.  The steward is punished by being placed among “the unfaithful” (v.46).

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