News of the master’s return spread quickly. The messenger had only just arrived and already half the household knew. Stuart realized that he did not have much time to get things in order – the master was two days away or three at most.
Stuart yelled for the farm manager as he raced to the barn. The fields were a mess. The manager had been working for weeks trying to clear all the stalks and leaves left behind after last year’s harvest, but he still had much to do. The ground had not even been turned for this year’s planting.
In most years, the manager had four or five farmhands to help him clear the fields and plant the crops on schedule. But last year Stuart fired one of the workers and three others had walked away, complaining that they were not getting paid enough. The farm manager and his father were the only ones left, and the father had become so weak that he was not much help. Stuart’s heart sank when the manager informed him that he could not possibly get all the fields cleared in two days.
As Stuart hurried back to the house he heard laughter coming from the kitchen, but it stopped as soon as he walked through the kitchen door. He told the two cooks what they already knew: that they would need to prepare a big banquet when the master returned. Stuart was sorry that he no longer employed a full kitchen staff like years ago. The current cooks would not be able to arrange much of a meal. Also, he wished that he had not hit the younger one quite so hard yesterday; she still had a big red welt on her face.
It should come as no surprise that Stuart the steward was fired soon after the master returned and saw the unkempt fields and the bruise on the young cook’s face. The master cared about all those who worked for his household. He wanted them to be paid fairly and treated with kindness and respect.
The master cherished his own family in a special way and took pride in his property. He wanted his wife and children to be happy and healthy, to enjoy hearty meals and a clean home. He wanted the fields, the stable and the house secured and well maintained. The master had entrusted his servants with an important responsibility when he asked them to watch over his household. He had given Stuart a special honor by putting him in charge of the whole operation.
Stuart failed in many ways. He was not attentive to the master’s family and property; he was more concerned about himself and the benefits of his office. Stuart failed his fellow servants, too. He treated them poorly and did a poor job in supporting and coordinating their work. The other servants wanted to care for the master’s family and keep the property well maintained but Stuart made that nearly impossible to do.
In telling the story of the irresponsible steward, Jesus invites us to be faithful and sensible servants instead. Those of us who are in leadership positions need to remember to watch out for the people entrusted to our care. We are invited to share God’s concern for them and to provide them with the encouragement and support that they need to live the life to which God invites them.
Of course, whether we are in a leadership position or not, all of us are reminded to be attentive to our own responsibilities. God’s “household” is the Kingdom growing right in our midst and God has given each of us an important job to do. Honored by the invitation, we respond with selflessness and generosity, looking forward to that day when the master of the household returns.
Author’s note: St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged us to use our imagination in contemplating Scripture passages so that we might draw greater fruit from them. In reflecting on the story of the unfaithful servant I use my imagination to fill in some of the details of the story, including the servant’s name.