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He allowed his master's debtors to cut down the amount of their debts fifty per cent in some cases, twenty per cent in others, with the understanding that they would repay him for this afterward, sharing with him the amount of which they had cheated his master. There is nothing strange in this part of the transaction. It has a remarkably modern air. It was one of those operations by which officials have cheated their governments in all time. It seems from the parable that this trick was understood in the first century as well as in the nineteenth. We know that, of the taxes levied by the ancient Romans in the provinces, only a small part ever found its way into the treasury; the rest was stolen by the tax-gatherers and the prætor. So it is in India, so in Russia, to-day. The same trick was practised in New York by Tweed and his companions, who allowed the contractors for the city to send in enormous bills, a large part of which, when paid, they took themselves. The same plan is pursued by the lobby to Congress and to State Legislatures, paying with stock those who will vote for their enterprises.
But why should the master who had been plundered commend the steward who robbed him? This is a more difficult question ; yet he may have commended prudence, while he condemned the fraud. Prudence, which uses present opportunities to secure future good, is right. The prudence was right, the knavery was wrong. And the point of the parable is, that we ought to put as much prudence, ingenuity, and cleverness into doing right as rogues use in doing wrong.
It has often been the case that while knaves have been ingenious, adroit, and skilful in their rascality, good people have gone in a blind and helpless way about their good works. It is a sort of proverb that religious people are easily imposed upon, that they have little knowledge of the world or of human nature. If their purpose is right, they are contented. They are very apt to adopt this want of judgment as a rule, and to say, "Do right, and leave the result to God.” But since the Lord has given brains to good people as well as to bad people, why not use them?
Once in a great while we find a man, like Dr. Franklin, who is as adroit in doing right, as sagacious in doing good, as knaves are in doing wrong. He discovered ingenious ways of helping those who were in need. Charitable people often give in a way to create more suffering than they relieve. Philanthropists go blindly on their way; patriots rush forward, inconsiderate of obstacles ; religious people have a zeal for God, without knowledge. But Jesus, by many methods, taught his disciples that they ought not only to be as harmless as doves, but also as wise as serpents. With the devotion of martyrs, ready to die for their cause, they must join the utmost caution and good sense in working for it. They must, before attempting any work, count the cost, to see if they should be able to finish it. It is not enough to mean to do good; we must do it. Conscience, which only wishes to save its own soul, may say, “I will do right, and leave the result to God;" but love, which desires to help its neighbor effectually, puts mind, as well as heart, into its work. It acts like the good Samaritan, who did not merely bind up the poor nian's wounds, and then leave him; but put him on his own beast, carried him to the inn, took care of him there, and, when he went away, made arrangements to have him provided for as long as he needed further help. We do not want a blind, fanatical philanthropy, but a sagacious philanthropy and a sagacious patriotism, which keeps to its end, but carefully considers the means.
I have heard prudence called “a rascally virtue." Jesus did not so regard it. And I think that when he meant to inculcate prudence he chose a bad wise man for an example and not a good wise man, that we might see that it was simply the wisdom that he was commending; that prudence in itself was a good thing. In point of fact, folly joined with conscience often does more harm than sagacity united with sefishness. What an amount of harm has been done by well-meaning persons who did not stop to consider; by blind zealots, doing wrong with the best intentions ; blind bigots, meaning to serve God by persecuting their neighbor; inquisitors, conscientiously cruel, paving hell with good intentions. Alas! it is still true, as it was when Jesus said it,
“ that the children of this world are, in their generation, wiser than the children of light.” If Herod and Pilate wish to crucify Jesus, they make up their quarrels, and join forces. But if Christians wish to put down the sins of Boston, then, instead of joining forces, they divide into numerous sects and spend a large part of their time in attacking each other.
Jesus illustrates this principle by showing what a mistake is made by many persons in the use of money; how they are cheated by it, and do not get the real good out of it that they might. This is something we possess, but do not own; but it may be used so as to give us something which we shall retain always. The widow who put her two mites into the treasury changed them into an everlasting possession, self-content, peace of mind, consciousness of doing right. A person who sacrifices some pleasure he would enjoy, in order to give pleasure to another, changes a transient gratification into a permanent power of character. A man who is faithful, upright, perfectly honest in his business where custom might allow him not to be so, where few would think worse of him for not being so strict, – he also gives up a transient gain for a permanent habit of soul. This is what Jesus means by saying, “Make yourselves friends of the unrighteous Mammon, so that when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” “Mammon of unrighteousness” means here “deceitful riches;" that which
seems to be what it is not, professes to do more for us than it can.
If we are faithful in that which is another's, God will give us that which is our own. Fidelity in transient insignificant work leaves a heavenly savor in the soul. Fidelity is the root out of which good and great things grow. It does not seem much. We are only asked to be true to our engagements, to stand fast to our professions, to keep our word; then we are trustworthy. That is what all can do, but how few do it! What want of fidelity in common work; how few men do their day labor as though God saw them! How many can be trusted in trade not to take small advantages of the ignorance of the purchaser? Here is where fidelity comes in. When we find a man who is faithful in these small things, we find one who is fit to be ruler over many things. This makes the sterling character, the honorable citizen, the one on whom men depend and know that their trust will never be betrayed. These men are the salt of the earth, without whom society would soon become corrupt and dissolve.
Business life, which is full of temptation to insincerity, has sometimes an opposite influence. It often educates men to fidelity. If the great majority of men did not usually keep their engagements, business could not be carried on. There is a code of business honor which to many educates to truth in other things. To such men, business is a