The Unjust Steward is the pope? Luke 16

The Parable of the Unjust Steward appears in Luke 16. It is also referred to as the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. It is part of the mass readings for yesterday. This parable always confused me, but recently I think I might have made some sense of it in light of Catholic teaching. I have not seen this explanation elsewhere. Let me give a shot and see what you think.

Summary: the master hears a bad report about the steward squandering the master’s property. So he demands an accounting and fires the steward. But the steward needs a place to go after he’s fired. So he contacts some of the debtors and reduces their debt. The master commends him for this. Presumably, the debtors then welcome the steward into their homes.

Here’s what I think:

  • The master is God.
  • The steward is the pope.
  • The debtors are souls in Purgatory.
  • The steward reducing the debt represents indulgences that are possible due to the pope’s possession of the keys to the kingdom and the treasury of merit (reward).

When I say, “the pope,” I am referring to the office of the Pope and not any one particular pope.

Catholics believe in two kinds of punishment for sin because there are two kinds of sin. There is mortal sin which leads to eternal punishment if it remains unrepented, and there is venial sin which leads to temporal punishment. Eternal punishment is hell. Temporal punishment happens here on Earth and also in Purgatory.

Because of the keys of the kingdom given to the pope by Jesus, and also the treasury of merit (reward), the pope through the Church can reduce (or even eliminate) the temporal punishment of sin. He can do this even though he himself might be doing bad things or have bad character.

Then, the holy souls in Purgatory will be grateful for receiving a reduction in the amount of temporal punishment they receive that came from the pope’s possession of the keys to the kingdom and the treasury of merit (reward). God is obviously happy with the debt being reduced, since he wants people with him. Once they are out of purgatory, they will pray for the pope, since he will be in Purgatory for being an unjust steward. Once he is out of Purgatory, they will receive him into their dwellings (John 14:3).

Having said that, I’m struggling what appears immediately following the parable. For example, immediately after the parable Jesus says:

..for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity; that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.

I’m not sure how that part fits into what I’ve said.

Here is a similar explanation, but it places Jesus himself as the unjust steward. I think it makes more sense to put the Pope as the steward. What do you think?

Here is a video of two Catholic apologists addressing the question of the bad popes. Both are very well known in Catholic circles, and I’ve met them both. The man on the left in the red shirt is Patrick Coffin, and the man on the right is Tim Staples. They don’t address Luke 16; I linked the video as a way of showing that, possibly, bad popes = unjust stewards.

See also:

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My dreams about the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is All Soul’s Day, so it is a great time to tell the story of my dreams about the Blessed Virgin Mary. I had two dreams, about four decades apart. The second dream interpreted the first, and they both were about purgatory although I did not know that until after the second dream.

The first dream

After my parents split up, my mother and I moved to a condo in the town where I was born. I think we lived there by ourselves at first but am not 100% sure. The man who would later become my step dad might have moved in with us right away but it’s a bit foggy. I was about four years old, I think.

One night I had a dream. My mother and I were in a very small room, like a box really. She was lying on her back, holding me up. The entire room was on fire, the floor, ceiling, walls. She was holding me up out of the flames. It was really scary. When the morning came, I think I told her about the dream but I don’t remember what she said.

I often wondered what the dream meant. After I became a Christian, I wondered if the fire represented hell, and this scared me a lot. But even that didn’t really make sense, since I wasn’t getting burned in the dream. It seemed that the dream had some meaning but I could not figure it out. As the years turned to decades, I just filed the dream away in the back of mind.

The second dream

In the late summer of 2011, after attending mass regularly for 8-9 months, I enrolled in RCIA. I had just learned the Hail Mary prayer:

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

I was a little bit reluctant to learn this prayer, because, being a former Protestant I had plenty of reservations about Mary. I even remember the cult leader denigrating her from time to time. So I learned the prayer. I figured that since I was going to become Catholic, I should know it.

Right around that time, I had a dream. I was walking along a road that was paved with black asphalt. As I walked along, there was a very large hole in the road, with flames coming out. With trepidation I approached the hole and could hear people screaming and crying inside it. I wondered to myself if it was hell, and felt very afraid that if I fell in, I wouldn’t be able to get out. That’s the nature of hell, after all. Once you’re there, that’s it. Game over.

Well, somehow I fell in. And I was utterly terrified because I thought I had fallen into hell, the place where there is no escape. People were screaming and crying and there were flames of fire everywhere. I wasn’t in pain, but for a reason I still cannot explain, reflexively I began to say the Hail Mary prayer that I had only memorized the prior week or so:

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee…

I had not finished it, and was lifted up out of the flaming pit into the air above it. Lifted, sort of like flying while staying upright but not on my own effort. And I’m not sure if this was part of the dream, or if I had this thought after waking up, but I saw Mary (or a statue of her) above me in the sky.

So I woke up and was completely bewildered. The dream was scary and didn’t make sense to me. But as I thought about it the next day, two amazing things occurred to me:

  • The pit was not hell, it was purgatory.
  • That dream interpreted the dream I had as a child. They both gave the same message.

holy-souls-in-purgatoryIt was purgatory, since people do get out of purgatory and the only way out is up. And the woman in the first dream was actually Mary. She was interceding for me. This knowledge came to me suddenly and I knew it was true.

What is really interesting is that I had not learned all that much about purgatory up to that point, and had definitely not learned anything about Mary’s intercession for those there. It was only much later that I learned about it. Here are some links for more info:

For more than four decades, the first dream made no sense to me, although I have since learned that there are a few Protestants who believe in purgatory. See here and here for examples. So God, in his good time, gave me the interpretation. It enabled me to let go of my ALL of reservations about Mary. Seriously. Overnight every reservation vanished and I joyfully embraced what the Church taught about her. God orchestrated both dreams, giving me the second dream when I needed it to help me enter into the Church.

Believe me, as a former Protestant (and Gnostic) I know how strange all this sounds. I really, really do. I can very easy put myself in those shoes and see how off-the-wall it seems. But that’s the beauty and the liberty of having a Bible interpreter, the beauty and liberty of not needing to be my own Bible interpreter. As I have stated many times, I am not responsible for figuring out the faith in order to establish it; I only need to enter into that which has already been established (per Jude 3). I can help defend that which has already been established, and perhaps develop it, but I can’t establish it as if the Holy Spirit were using me for something entirely new. There is so much peace and freedom there, far more than I ever experienced before. 

Thanks to SR, who inspired me to write this post after I read her post about Mary:

My Conversion Story: How the Blessed Mother Called Me to the Catholic Church

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