First Steps, after Millet,
Painting by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890),
Painted in 1890
Oil on Canvas
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The master praised the dishonest servant
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘There was a rich man and he had a steward denounced to him for being wasteful with his property. He called for the man and said, “What is this I hear about you? Draw me up an account of your stewardship because you are not to be my steward any longer.” Then the steward said to himself, “Now that my master is taking the stewardship from me, what am I to do? Dig? I am not strong enough. Go begging? I should be too ashamed. Ah, I know what I will do to make sure that when I am dismissed from office there will be some to welcome me into their homes.”
Then he called his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, “How much do you owe my master?” “One hundred measures of oil” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond; sit down straight away and write fifty.” To another he said, “And you, sir, how much do you owe?” “One hundred measures of wheat” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond and write eighty.”
‘The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness. For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light.’
Reflection on the painting
About one in three of Jesus' parables mentions money (the lost coin, the parable of the talents, etc…). He understood that money, the lack of money, the abundance of money, the desire for money are all part of our human lives and affect us. So no wonder Jesus talks about it often. What is at first surprising is how today's parable seems to tell a story where everybody is somehow corrupt or even bad. The old employer even seems to compliment the dishonest manager for being shrewd. What the dishonest servant is doing, through, is reducing other people's debts. By doing so he gains favour with the master. It is maybe a story where small steps of conversion and repentance are encouraged. Ok the dishonest servant isn't fully honest yet, but maybe he is trying. And by trying, he is already changing some of the relationships around him, as for example gaining favour again with his master. Today's story encourages gradual change and taking small steps, which is better than taking no steps at all….
The spiritual journey is one of accumulated small steps. Little by little, step by step we try to make changes. What is important is to have focus and know what we want to walk towards. The destination is key: God. And God will give us the instruments and graces to keep us going on our walk, even when the steps can become heavy and we feel as though we are going through muddy places. Every small step can move us closer to God. The important thing therefore is to start moving and take our first steps towards God.
Our painting by Vincent Van Gogh (painted after a work by Jean-François Millet) shows a small child taking the first steps in life. The mother is gently releasing the young girl who with outstretched arms wants to leap forward towards her father. Maybe the child will fall a few times before reaching her father, but the main thing is that she is trying as hard as she can, with full enthusiasm. We are called to take the same small steps in our spiritual lives and keep moving towards our Father… however many times we may fall.
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