After the Easter Vigil Saturday night a group of us, mostly comprised of students from McGill, and many from the Montreal Catholic Challenge movement, stayed up all night reading through an entire Gospel and having discussions as often as we could by way of reflection on what we had read. It’s something of a small ‘t’ tradition here among several Catholic groups to read through the Gospel (one of the four), save the last chapter on the resurrection, and then to head up mount royal to join several other Christian groups to see the sun rise, and then read the last chapter as the sun rises. I’ve done it a few times and this year decided to participate again.
One of the passages we read struck everyone as very odd, as we were reading through the Gospel according to Luke, and it made me want to look into it. Here’s the passage:
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
~Luke 16:9 (New American Version)
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
~Luke 16:9 (New Revised Standard Version)
I think, upon some reflection and after brief research, that the passage is prescribing how to properly use money in order to invest it in treasure which will not fail us. When it says to ‘make friends’ I think it means make friends of strangers and enemies (i.e., of those who are not already your friends), and to do so by way of ‘dishonest wealth’ meaning by means of the worldly wealth which is not truly wealth at all. The Greek word which is here translated as ‘dishonest’ is αδικία, and means unjust, or indicates iniquity or wrongfulness – perhaps better translated sinful wealth or the ‘wrong’ wealth (or ‘unclean’ wealth). The passage doesn’t mean to qualify the riches to be used as those which are dishonestly gained (as though commanding us to use the wealth we’ve made by dishonest means in this way, but leaving aside the issue of how to use wealth gained by honest means), but rather attaches the adjective αδικία to worldly wealth in general.
The NIV puts the translation this way, which I prefer since it is more obvious that ‘unrighteousness’ is the genitive:
Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles.
~Luke 16:9 (New International Version)
So, when money fails us, we will have invested treasures in eternal tabernacles, if we use our worldly wealth to help the poor, and make friends by means of money. Money can no more buy a friend than money can buy an indulgence, but of course the act of giving money with the right disposition of the heart can purchase either.
Scott Hahn adds the following sources in his footnotes to this passage, which I think are worth ending on:
952 “They had everything in common.” “Everything the true Christian has is to be regarded as a good possessed in common with everyone else. All Christians should be ready and eager to come to the help of the needy . . . and of their neighbors in want.” A Christian is a steward of the Lord’s goods.
In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’
Finally, and appropriately:
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures for ever.’
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
~2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Happy Easter. Christ is Risen!