Today’s parable about the crafty steward is meant to wake us from a spiritual slumber. It’s a wakeup call. The steward squanders his master’s property and he gets caught. He knows he’s going to lose his job and he’s desperate. There’s no social security and no unemployment check waiting for him. He’s too weak for manual labor and he’s too proud to beg. He’s frantic and needs to act quickly so he comes up with a scheme. A scheme that’s immoral, pathetic, and far from foolproof but it is a decisive action. The steward moved when the situation called for action. And the rich master is impressed. He calls the steward prudent and even though it was immoral the steward knew what to do to save himself.
Jesus uses this story about material wealth as a metaphor for our spiritual life. We are motivated to take action when we have failing bank accounts, we are motivated to take action when we have broken cars, and we are certainly motivated to take action when we have failing physical health. But are we just as motivated to care for our spiritual life when it’s in jeopardy? The unjust steward realized his desperate situation and acts. What is our spiritual situation like? Are we ready to act?
I want to share with you a story about a man who, when faced with a desperate situation, took action. And the action he chose was to grow closer to God. John Newton was born in 1725. His devoted Christian mother hoped that he would one day become a minister. But she died when John was six and John’s life took off in a very different direction. At the age of 11 he went to sea to be with his dad who was a sailor. John worked on merchant ships with his dad and he gained quite an education on board those ships growing farther and farther away from God, until one day he stopped believing. Eventually John’s dad retired and they went their separate ways. John eventually found himself as a captain of a ship used in the slave trade. Slaves were picked up in West Africa, where they were crammed into the hold of the ship with barely enough room to breathe. Receiving little food or water many died before ever reaching North America.
In 1748 sailing to England John experienced a profound spiritual wake up call. His ship the Greyhound encountered a severe storm off the coast of Ireland. As massive amounts of water poured into the ship, threatening to sink it Newton amazed himself by crying out, “Lord have mercy on us!” Spending the next 11 hours at the ship’s helm battling the storm he reflected on his life and his rejection of God. This experience marked the beginning of his conversion. That date was March 10, 1748, the day of his turn around, and from that date forward John avoided profanity, gambling, drinking, and womanizing. It was a few years later, however, before he gave up the slave trade. On his last trip as a slave trader he turned back when at the half way point to America. He returned the slaves to Africa and gave them their freedom.
John Newton did eventually become a minister as his mom had hoped. He became an Anglican priest and a strident abolitionist, but I think most of us today know him as the author of the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Now you know the rest of the story.
This story of John Newton is a story of one of God’s children returning back to Him, opening the door to Him, opening that link to eternity. John Newton had the opportunity, (like we do, right now, today) to look at his life before he died, to see things that he wanted to change and to change them. He had those eleven hours to reflect on his life. He had the opportunity to welcome God back into his life and make Him the Biggest part of it and he did. John took action and reconnected with his faith. He responded to God’s amazing grace. He realized at that point, I think, that he like the rest of us was not meant for this material world, but meant for the eternity of Heaven. We have that same opportunity to respond to God’s grace. If we’re feeling a little distant from God, we can invite Him back into our lives. If something is gnawing at us or unsettling us, we can reconcile with Him.
God is patient and always calling us back to Himself, always waiting for us. In the days of the Old Testament He spoke through the prophets to call back his Israelites. Today He speaks to us through Christ His Son, He speaks to us through His Church and He speaks to us through our Pope. Pope Francis once wrote of an encounter with God that changed his life. On September 21, 1953, a 16-year-old boy named Jorge Bergoglio was planning to go out to celebrate with friends an Argentinian national holiday called Students’ Day, which is always held on the first day of spring in the Southern Hemisphere. Jorge decided to start the holiday by going to pray at his parish church dedicated to St. Joseph. When Jorge arrived at the church, he saw a priest he didn’t recognize but one who seemed to radiate holiness. He decided to approach him and asked him to hear his confession. We don’t know what Jorge said to the priest or what the priest said in response. But we do know that that confession totally changed not only the teenager’s plans for the day, but for the whole course of his life. Pope Francis would later say, “For me, this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I don’t know what happened. I can’t remember. I don’t know why that particular priest was there, whom I didn’t know, or why I felt this desire to confess. But the truth is that someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession, I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice or a call.” “I realized that God was waiting for me.”
God is ever faithful even when we’re not, God is always waiting. None of us knows when we’ll see God face-to-face, but all of us will and all of us want to be sure we’re ready for that moment. Let’s not wait for tomorrow.
The unjust steward was very quick to take action when his material world was in jeopardy. Let us always be quick too, but quick to take action when our spiritual life is in jeopardy because it profits us nothing to gain the whole world if in the process we lose our soul. Our Lord was waiting for John Newton, he was waiting for the 16 year old Jorge Bergoglio and he’s waiting for us too, waiting to receive us with open arms.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley