VERY intriguing words of Christ, indeed! (cfr Lk 16,9) We need to go slow, keeping a good grip on our reflex reaction, to know what Christ really meant by them. Otherwise, we can easily misinterpret these divine words.
To be sure, Christ did not say that we should generate our wealth in a dishonest way. “No servant can serve two masters,” he said. “You cannot serve God and mammon.” We should avoid dishonesty.
What Christ really wanted to say was that since we cannot avoid dishonest wealth given our wounded and sinful condition that often leads us to be dishonest, we just have to make sure that we use that dishonest wealth properly while trying to eliminate dishonesty wherever it is found.
In another part of the gospel, he already warned his apostles, and us, about the naked reality of our life in this world. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Mt 10,16) In short, we have to learn to deal with this condition. We are not yet in Paradise.
Christ wants us to know how to cope with this ugly condition of our life here on earth, and even convert it into something that is good, purifying and redeeming. What usually happens is that the so-called “good people,” or those who want to follow Christ or who want to be holy, get so idealistic that they would be at a loss as to how to deal with the ugly reality of our earthly sojourn.
Thus, he made this reproach: “The sons of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the sons of light.” (Lk 16,8) These words were spoken after Christ in a parable commended the shrewd manager who made some arrangements after he was given notice of being fired.
Of course, using dishonest wealth properly can be done in many ways. One could be that it has to be returned to where that wealth rightfully comes from. If that is not possible anymore for one reason or another, then it can be used to atone or to make up for whatever damage the dishonest way of acquiring may have caused.
Thus, in that episode of Christ meeting the rich chief tax collector Zaccheus, Christ again commended the rich man for what the tax collector did with those whom he may have cheated. (cfr Lk 19,1-10)
“Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount,” said Zaccheus. And Christ answered: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Lk 19,8-10)
Or that dishonest wealth can be used to do some good or to promote the common good of society. In all of this, we should try our best to undo any practice, system, structure, culture or lifestyle that generates this dishonest wealth.
We have to be realistic in dealing with the actual realities of our life. This does not mean that we have to make compromises in our morality. In fact, given the unavoidable unpleasant things in life, we have to be most clear and sharp in distinguishing between what is good and evil, what is moral and immoral.
Only in this way would we know how to deal with dishonest and sinful practices in this life. It would be good to review the principles to guide us regarding the distinction between formal, that is, intentional cooperation in evil, on one hand, and material cooperation, on the other hand. We need to be experts in the latter, given the facts of life.