THE PARABLE OF THE STEWARD – CATHOLICOS PAPKEN GULESSERIAN

“Give an account of your stewardship”
—Luke 16:1-9

Dear Armenians, this is our lesson for today from the Gospel. Of course you know and you remember the Parable of the Steward in the Gospel. It is purely a business matter. Even in the American mind and understanding, it is a business matter. If it is clear that social situations that come up in human life are age-old repetitions, then the Parable of the Steward is not a new phenomenon, but one echo of the eternal truths and situations in human life.

There was a wealthy man who owned land, properties and funds. Eventually his business became so vast and diversified that he could no longer operate it all by himself. So he turned over the stewardship or management of his business to an expert on his staff. This is the so-called “steward,” who served him for a long time with the total authority that was given to him. He grew old in that position.

There were also some people who were poking their noses into the steward’s work. Maybe they were simply the wealthy man’s lackeys, or perhaps impartial people who whispered unflattering things concerning the steward into the wealthy man’s ear. According to them, the steward “was squandering his employer’s assets” [Luke 16:1].

According to an old saying, “tangible things are sweeter than the spiritual ones.” Without regard for the long and faithful service of his steward, who had reached retirement age, the wealthy man summons him and confronts him with the accusations he has heard. He adamantly announces, “Don’t waste a moment! Go put your accounts in order and bring them to me because you can no longer be my steward” [Luke 16:2].

The poor man leaves, and so that he can close his books, he makes a few arrangements with his clients. For some of them he offers commercial reductions or discounts in the calculation of their debts. His accusers use this as fresh evidence to further discredit the steward. But this time, the wealthy man will have none of it. Seemingly respecting the total authority with which he had entrusted the steward, he commended him, even if what he did was “unjust” [Luke 16:8].

An employee who works in a business for his entire career deserves to live according to his good reputation and the privileges of his faithful service. Such a diligent person should not be reduced to begging. Having reached retirement age, he should not be consigned to manual labor or farm work. He rightly expects that his grateful clients will one day return the favor of his courtesy. This approach of the steward appears quite natural to the wealthy man and he praises him.

Our Lord Jesus Christ also endorses the outcome of this story and he tells his followers to be mindful of the shrewd deed of this so-called “unjust” steward: “Strive to utilize unjust and unlawful money in this world in such a way that you may be able to secure for yourselves eternal blessings” [Luke 16:9].

In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, the Savior’s full attention is focused on using human wisdom for what is good, investing it wisely on what is undeniably necessary.

Christians may not use ungodly methods in business, work or service. Human life has a clear purpose toward which it strives. This purpose is the proper growth and development of all human abilities, and their proper stewardship (management, utilization) for the complete expression of the Christian’s life.

Laws exist to secure and realize human freedom. To submit oneself to the law does not mean bondage or the violation of freedom. And nowhere, never, and in no way does freedom mean lawlessness, disorderliness, rudeness, or perversion; in other words, irresponsibility.

As for our talents and abilities, whether practical and fiscal expertise, or ethical and religious graces, apparent or hidden within us, we may not use them “as we wish,” unaccountable to ourselves, our friends or our Gospel. We are obliged to be at least as shrewd as the Unjust Steward was at the last moment.

If possible, however, the children of light are always obliged to be shrewd in the freedom of Christian life.

Let us assume that you understand freedom in an absolute sense as “doing whatever you want.” No person or power may meddle in, or critique what you do. Very well. By this principle, if you are a smoker or a drinker, for example. You smoked or drank freely, as much as you wanted, and in your excesses you harmed yourself. Do you think that you are not responsible for your fate? Like it or not, you are responsible to yourself because in your excesses, you trampled on the principles of your own freedom! You tarnished yourself and made yourself sick. You blocked the principles governing the normal growth and development of your human capacities.

Now it is those principles that hold you accountable and warn you to “Give an account of your stewardship, for you may no longer be my steward.”

My dear friends, the lessons of the Gospel are marvelously practical for our life and in our life. We just need to be able to see and discern their reality.

Each of us is responsible for our own actions and words. To each of us, at every moment, is directed that eternal and true warning, “Give an account of your stewardship, because you may no longer be my steward.”

From the perspective of their love for inner peace, and of the well being and happiness of their communities, if people recognized the principles and standards of their personal accountability, there is no doubt that many of life’s problems and troubles would subside and melt away.

“Give an account of your stewardship.” This is directed to each of us at every turn. Give an account of your inner life. Give an account of your family life. Give an account of your social life. Give an account of your efforts for the nation. Give an account of your civil life. Give an account of your career, your words, your profits, your losses. Give an account of your Christian obligations. Do it now and don’t waste time, because you can no longer “be my steward.”

Dear Armenians, we are the children of a forlorn people and too often, in one way or another, we ourselves are the cause of the escalation of our own national misfortunes. We are also accustomed to denying any responsibility whatsoever for our own misfortunes. Instead, we look for others to hold accountable. And that accountability is a very heavy and a very unpleasant thing. Who would dare accept it? For this reason mistakes are made, crimes are committed, and the true attribution of responsibility remains unresolved. And without realizing it, we perpetuate our familiar ways, adding sin on top of sin. Each of us becomes a sinner in the other’s eyes, responsible for all our troubles. Meanwhile each of us personally and individually is sinless and innocent in our own eyes, and our conscience is clear…

But this is not the lesson of the Gospel. The Gospel obliges each Christian to hold himself accountable first of all. Every good person, or every person who wishes to be good, is obliged, before all else, to remove the log from his own eye and only then to tell another person that he has a speck in his eye [Matthew 7:-5].

According to the Gospel you may not accuse your friend in a matter or in a problem in which you are also involved. If your friend has a speck of blame, then—remember the log— before all else, you are equally to blame. You bear responsibility as well and you are obliged to give an account and a report of your stewardship and of your dealings.

The warning, the command, is sharp and to the point: “Give an account of your stewardship.” Who among us will be able to demonstrate the same sense and competence as the unjust steward when the time comes to prepare his own books and those of his people?

The wisdom of individuals and of nations is manifested in trying circumstances. The Armenian people were subjected to a plight that cannot be depicted or described by any word in any language. Today every single member of the Armenian nation feels that plight and attempts to do something. But he does not know what he should do because he is ready to do everything. Read the newspapers. Listen to conversations. They’re ready to do anything. Blood again? They are ready to spill it. Money again? They are already demanding it. Again unity? One will, one spirit, one fate? How zealously they write! The result? None. Because the burden of responsibility is always shifted to others. The speakers, the chief slaughterers, the writers, the critics—they are not responsible. The audiences, the readers, and the distressed are accountable and responsible. The log is meaningless but the speck is doing harm.

My dear friends, do you see where our nation has led us—to the abandonment of the Gospel’s lessons? We should not look outside for the causes of our personal infirmities and troubles because we are the primary cause. Let us acknowledge our own part in the principal causes of the afflictions that have come upon our people. And now, to come out from under the burden of this indictment, let us follow the example of the Unjust Steward, who was able to secure his future with such shrewdness that he was worthy of commendation in the Gospel.

Go therefore and do not forget the lesson of today’s Gospel: “Give an account…”

Give an account of your conscience and your good sense. Where are you? What are you doing? What are you planning to do?

Give an account to your ethnic paternity. See how faithful you have been to its traditions.

Give an account to the conscience of your people and see to what extent you feel responsible for the burden of your nation’s plight.

Give an account to your God, your Savior, and to your Gospel and see how much you have strayed from, and become a stranger to that sanctifying domain.

In this last moment, arrange all of your affairs in such a way that your accounting will be worthy of the Gospel’s commendation.

“Fourth Sunday of Great Lent: The Parable of the Steward” Catholicos Papken Gulesserian (1868-1936)
translated by V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan

One of the truly outstanding churchmen of the twentieth century, Catholicos Papken Gulesserian was born in Aintab and studied at the renowned Seminary of Armash, outside Constantinople, before becoming its Dean. He spent time in the United States recovering from an illness and so escaped the horrors of the Genocide. Following a stint as a professor in the Seminary of Jerusalem, in 1928 he was appointed co-adjutor Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia by Catholicos Sahak II Khabayan and was consecrated in 1931. A brilliant preacher, beloved teacher, profoundly devout Christian, prolific writer, and fastidious yet visionary administrator, he died in 1936 before the aged Catholicos whom he had been appointed to succeed. This essay is from his superb book, Lessons from the Gospel [Դասեր աւետարանէն], printed in Antelias, Lebanon in 1936.