One of the more baffling of Jesus’ sayings is the parable of the Dishonest Steward: We all remember the parable. It’s the one where the steward is about to get canned from his job, so he goes to various people who owe money to his Master and urges them to falsify their bill. The Master gets cheated, but the debtors get a break and are therefore (the Steward hopes) grateful enough to support him once he’s out of a job.
I still mostly cannot make head or tail of this parable. I suspect it has to do with the fact that I do not live in a tribal culture that is rather easygoing when it comes to bribes and loose financial dealing. In particular, I find it astounding that the Master is pleased with the Steward for his shady financial dealings. But I am struck by one of the curious morals Jesus draws:
The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. (Luke 16:8)
The force of this curious saying came home to me in an odd way about a year ago when I was down in Hollywood for a panel discussion on The Da Vinci Code. On the shuttle back to the airport after the conference, we picked up a guy named “Scott”. He was the consummate Hollywood Indie filmmaker type. Goatee, earring, studied casual look that was the result of clothes which cost him a fortune, cell phone glued to the ear, meticulously styled hair, tan, shades. He got in the van, talking on his cell:
“No. We are going to have to revise act one. And tell Bernie I will not settle for a penny less than 10% of the gross. Now get Tiffany on the phone and tell her I want to do lunch ASAP!” The conversation went on in this vein for several minutes, full of the rock solid, commonsense business acumen of an adult in full charge of his faculties. He juggled multiple calls, handled a host of different financial and business issues with the grace of an acrobat, and generally came off as a highly intelligent, totally competent player who was fully prepared to navigate the ruthless and complex world of Hollywood filmmaking.
Finally, he shut off his cell phone, turned to me (he was a very gregarious fellow) and said, “Hi! Name’s Scott” and shook my hand. We exchanged pleasantries and he asked what I did.
Long experience in travel has taught me: If I don’t want to be disturbed, I answer that question with, “I’m a Catholic writer.” Usually people will retreat into awkward silence and I can get on with my work. However, if I do feel like chatting, I reply, “I’m the author of a book about The Da Vinci Code.”
Invariably, eyes light up and pulses quicken: “The Da Vinci Code!” comes the breathless response.
In this case, I was feeling chatty, so I gave Answer Number Two. Instantly, Scott was fully engaged. He was not only a big fan of The Da Vinci Code, but he was also reading a twelve volume set of books based, he said, on Sanskrit manuscripts, translated Mayan hieroglyphics, “the latest Science”, esoteric Kaballah writings, “books that didn’t get included in the Bible” and various other outré sources. He enthusiastically related to me how extraterrestrials had landed on earth thousands of years ago to conduct genetic engineering experiments on primates in order to manufacture the first homo sapiens. This was, he explained, the source of all the world religions…
Here, his phone rang and he took the call. Instantly, he was all solid business sense again, wheeling and dealing, barking orders, talking high finance and the technical details of film production–smoothly schmoozing like an old operator. However, he cut the call short because “he was doing something important right now.” The “something important”, it turned out, was his eager desire to return to his breathless discussion of how humanity and all earth’s religions and myths were rooted in the vast extraterrestrial genetic engineering experiment that was somehow verified by the Great Pyramids and Stonehenge. It was a dazzling farrago of crazy nonsense that kept me spellbound all the way to the airport.
But it got me thinking about that quote from Jesus. Scott was not stupid. Nor was he crazy. He was simply what Jesus called a “son of this world”. In his own sphere, he was brilliant and gifted. But when it came to the things of Heaven he was a living embodiment of the old saw that people who refuse to believe in God (Scott informed me he was an ex-Catholic) will believe in anything.