THE CRAFTY STEWARD
After a hectic day of work at sea, battling it out with our nets and the waves, we would fasten our boats to the small wharf of Capernaum, and all of us fishermen would gather in the rambling tavern of one-eyed Joachim. There, we would gulp down a jug of wine as we protested the new taxes of King Herod and laughed at the antics of Phanuelís steward.....
Pipo: This jug of wine is on me, pals! Hik! Itís my treat, but first, youíve got to shout ďLong live Pipo!Ē.... Címon..... one, two..... and three!
All: Long live Pipo!!
Pipo: Yes sir, long live myself! Hey, one-eyed man, give more wine to all my fans, hik! Ha, ha, ha, ay! What a good life for a fattened cow like me! Ha, ha, hay!
Big Pipo was a special man. Being everyoneís friend, with his three-edged beard and rotten teeth, Pipo hopped from one pub to another laughing at his own jokes and making us laugh at the same time. Because of his charm and his talent with numbers, he had landed a good job as steward of old Phanuel, one of the wealthiest proprietors of Capernaum. But Pipo was a spendthrift. All the money he earned, and did not earn, would be wasted, draining barrels and barrels of wine...
Peter: Well, Pipo, what a good life you have, you rascal! Your pocket has more money than the caravans of the Queen of Shebah could carry!
Pipo: Itís my boss, Phanuel, who earns the money, hik!..... I just manage it.
John: Or better, you spend it, scoundrel!
Pipo: Iím just doing him a favor. Look, Old Phanuel doesnít even know what to do with his money.... hik! He doesnít know how to enjoy it..... Bah, If I donít help this miser, the moths will just eat up all his savings.....! Hik! Know something, pals? Iím just living up to a saying of Solomon: ďThe smart man lives on a fool but the fool lives on his work,Ē Ha, ha, ha, hay....!
James: Where did Solomon say that, Pipo?
Pipo: Search me! I dunno, and I donít care. But thatís very well said, hik! Hey, guys, look at me, Iím the happiest man in Capernaum! Hip! Címon everybody, get your empty glasses and letís all shout: ďCheers to Pipo!Ē... ready,Ö one, two, hik!.... and three!
Phanuel: Long live Pipo!
It was something unexpected. There, at the door, was Phanuel, Pipoís employer, with his fine cane. His face was very serious. All of us remained motionless as the rich old man silently crossed the tavern... Pipo was as still as a statue, raising a glass of wine in one hand. He was unable to take the last gulp of wine.....
Pipo: Yes, master....
Phanuel: You may collect all your things first thing in the morning, tomorrow.
Pipo: But, master....
Phanuel: Iím not your master anymore. I heard everything. Youíre fired.
Without further ado, Phanuel clasped the handle of his cane and left the pub...
Pipo: Damn. Talk of good timing, huh?.... Why, he even cured my hiccups!
Peter: Your happy days are over, my friend!
James: Tomorrow at this time youíll be on the road begging!
Pipo: Old Phanuel should have let me explain....
Peter: What else is there to explain, rascal? You should be grateful he did not send for two guards to have you arrested and kicked in jail!
Pipo: Youíre right, Peter...... now, what am I to do, huh?
Peter: Like what the rest of us are doing...... work!
Pipo: No, no, please, donít ever mention that to me..... I get goose pimples just by hearing the word.... I wasnít born for that.... I donít have the strength for that...
John: Sure youíve got it. The problem is youíve got such a big belly that you canít even bend yourself!
James: Youíve got to do it, pal. Iíve seen you tending the pigs or gathering cucumbers.
Pipo: No, no, Iím no good for farm work. Thereís not a single laborer in my clan.
Peter: Well then, come with us, and letís go fishing in the lake. Do you know how to cast nets?
Pipo: All I know is that I get seasick, like a pregnant woman.
John: Learn something, damn it: be a potmaker, a tailor, or a tanner...
Pipo: At my age, John? Do you think I can still learn something? Iím forty, and Iím good for nothing!
James: Well then, my friend, Pipo, I guess thereís nothing left for you to do but to beg at the door of the synagogue!
Pipo: Are you crazy? Iíd rather die! I, Pipo, my motherís son, begging for alms? No way, do you hear? James, and everyone, you heard me, Iíll never, never do that!!
Peter: Okay, okay, you screaming fool!... And what the hell do you plan to do?
Pipo: Iíve got one night to think about it. One night. Iíve got to clear my mind for it... Hey, one-eyed, give me another shot... I promise to pay you everything tomorrow, at this time.... And this, I swear!
That night, Pipo was restless and couldnít sleep.....
Pipo: What shall I do?.... What shall I do?.... Oh Pythoness of King Saul, enlighten me!... Almighty God, send me an angel who will whisper an idea in my ear!... Damn it, Iím breaking my head thinking of something, and yet, nothing comes out of it... Pipo, think of something, fast, if you want to save your skin..... Blazes, Iíve got it! Iíve got it!..... Oh, mother, what a smart son you brought into this world!... Now, I must move.... and fast....
Pipo was on the move before it was dawn...
Lucius: But, who the devil is calling at this time?
Pipo: Itís I, Pipo..... Please open the door!...
Lucius: Whatís the matter, man? Are you having some nightmares? Are the police after you?
Pipo: Iíd rather that a whole squadron go after me.... but thatís not what Iím here for...
Lucius: Howís that?
Pipo: Nothing, good man. Tell me, how many barrels of oil do you owe my master, Phanuel?
Lucius: A hundred. You, yourself, made me sign the receipt, donít you remember? Is that what you came here for?
Pipo: You ask so many questions, old man. Look, here is your receipt: ďI, Lucius, son of Luciano, am in debt of a hundred barrels of oil to Phanuel, in accordance with the Galilean measurement.Ē
Lucius: What are you doing, you fool?
Pipo: I just tore the receipt that you had signed.
Pipo: And so, please sit down. Here, Iím giving you a new one, a blank one..... Write: I, Lucius, son of Luciano, am in debt of ......fifty barrels of oil.... to Phanuel... yes, yes, write that, fifty barrels...
Lucius: But Pipo....
Pipo: Ssshhh! Just shut up...
Lucius: What will your master say if he finds out?
Pipo: I donít care anymore what heíll say. What youíll say matters more to me, my friend, Lucius.
Pipo: Yes, you, my friend... Listen to me carefully.... Now, you only owe Phanuel fifty barrels of oil, thanks to me, your friend, Pipo, whoís helping you and who cares for you..... Good-bye, old man, and go back to bed at once, that you may not catch cold!
Then, he left and knocked at another door...
Urias: A hundred sacks of wheat, thatís what I owe your master, Phanuel.
Pipo: A hundred sacks? Donít you think thatís too much, my friend, Urias?
Urias: Thatís what I say, Pipo.... Iím but a poor man... I wonder how I shall finish paying what I owe your master...
Pipo: Donít talk anymore, Urias. Iím so touched.... and moved to tears. Here is your receipt... I just tore it. Sit down here and write another one.... Just put eighty only. ďI am in debt of eighty sacks of wheat to the miser, Phanuel...Ē Well, strike out the word miser... And donít forget, Iím doing this for you because youíre my friend....
Urias: Thank you, Pipo, thank you...!
And so, Pipo, spent the whole night knocking at every door, waking up the debtors of his master, Phanuel, and making them sign new receipts... When the sun peeped through the mountains of Basan and the roosters of Capernaum began to shake their wings, Pipo, the crafty steward, had finished his mission...
Pipo: What a night!.. Now, old Phanuel may kick me in the ass if he wants to..... Iím ready for it!
At mid-morning, he went to see his master...
Phanuel: Thereís nothing to talk about, Pipo. I donít believe your stories anymore...
Pipo: But master, Phanuel...
Phanuel: Letís get this over with, once and for all. You have been an immoral steward. I never want to see that disgusting beard of yours ever again.
Pipo: Well, master, if you say so.... Look, here are the keys to the farm and... here are the receipts of all your debtors....
Phanuel: Very well, leave them here..... And now, youíre dismissed.
Pipo then headed for Luciusí house....
Pipo: Oh, Lucius, oh!
Lucius: What happened? Tell me, my friend.
Pipo: Oh, Lucius, something unexpected happened, like the fire that burned Sodom. My master, Phanuel, just fired me.
Lucius: He fired you?..... But why?
Pipo: Because he did.
Lucius: What an injustice! Pipo, believe me, I understand your predicament.
Pipo: Believe me, Lucius. Nice words alone wonít be of any help.
Lucius: Pipo, my house is your house. If you need shelter, if you need something warm to eat, some cash in advance.... just let me know, Iím your friend!
Pipo: I wasnít expecting any less from you, Lucius!
Then Pipo proceeded to the other debtors of his former master...
Pipo: Urias, now I help you, tomorrow, you help me.
Urias: What do you mean, Pipo?
Pipo: Yesterday was today and today will be tomorrow.
Urias: Howís that?
Pipo: I was fired from work, man, and now Iím as poor as a rat...
Urias: Weep not, Pipo. What are friends for during these difficult times? You can count on me, my friend!
Pipo: Thank you, Urias, thank you...
That morning, Pipo took the same road he took that midnight.... knocking once again at the doors of his former masterís debtors....
John: What the hell! Look how Pipo was able to get away with the devil!
Peter: Remember what I told you, Jesus? This guy as always, is back on his two feet! He has a way with everything!
Jesus: Know whatís on my mind, Peter? If only we were all smart enough to fight for the lives of other people, just as Pipo has been smart enough to save his own skin, then things would be different! If we were as crafty as he, then the Kingdom of God would move forward, donít you think so?
Pipo: Hey, whatís up, fellas? Iím sure youíre talking about me, is that right? Well, so you wonít be talking at my back, here I am. Know what? Itís my treat tonight!... Hey, one-eyed, fill up their empty glasses with wine, and let them shout: Cheers to Pipo! Yeah, my friends..... one, two and three....!
Jesus took up his glass too, and gave a toast to Pipo, the astute steward... And so in between gulps of wine and jokes, we spent a hell of a time in Joachimís pub beside the wharf.
Jesus was laughing when we left, saying that in order to work for the Kingdom of God, one had to be as innocent as the doves but as clever as the serpents....
The land owners of Galilee usually hired the services of an administrator or foreman (steward) who would oversee their lands and attend to their laborers or debtors. Generally, many of these big land owners would not stay permanently in their farms. At any rate, the system of strict accountability as we know in our countries did not exist in the Oriental economy of that period. This explains the anomalous practices committed by Pipo.
Pipo is an astute and a naughty man. An opportunist. But he is capable, sagacious, shrewd, and resourceful when it comes to getting himself out of a difficult situation and saving his skin. Jesus does not criticize his behavior; instead, he gives it importance. More so, he finds in Pipo a model of astuteness that we must imitate. The parable about the ďcrafty stewardĒ Ė which in this episode appears to be a real thing Ė has always turned out to be something surprising. The fact that Jesus proposes a cheater to serve as a model of behavior is something highly audacious. Jesus knows how to see beyond the indignant reaction resulting from the conduct of the steward. The mission of the Kingdom is so urgent and there are obstacles along the way. The moment is so crucial that the speed with which this Pipo knows how to solve his problem seems admirable to him.
Jesus was never a moralist, a religious person, a puritan. He was a man in the midst of life, faced with a multitude of events, some of which were dramatic, others gray, and still others, amusing. Before such, he was a man with a sense of humor. He laughed, he knew how to laugh, he loved to laugh. We canít understand how Jesus is able to show his profound wisdom before life and people if we think of him as someone buried deep in his thoughts or uncaring. The ingenuity of a number of his parables, the ultimate surprise at the end of a number of them Ė this, for example Ė are telling us about a born humorist.
The Bible is full of wit or bits of humor. It is impossible to read an infinity of its pages with open mind and heart without smiling. One finds in them irony, ingenuity, mischief, all kinds of human wit. Humor is a sign of maturity and wisdom. The wisdom to take distance, to establish the relativity of things, not to give importance to oneís self. Real humor always has some roots of true humility.
Those who do not know how to laugh at themselves, or who do not accept that others can laugh at them, may be suffering from pride, and think too highly of themselves. Persons of authority who cannot take a joke, who get irked by the same, who censure humor, are afraid of losing something of their power which probably hinges on impositions rather than on true moral authority. For a lot of people, what is religious is synonymous to seriousness, sadness, solemnity, and even bad humor. Something is wrong when Christian communities are made up of people who cannot afford to laugh.
Jesus suggested to his friends to become as ďclever as the serpents and as innocent as dovesĒ (Mt 10:17). The serpent was considered in Israel Ė as in the majority of ancient cultures Ė as a highly dangerous animal, a symbol of the bad spirits. Jesus, who was a man of life, a positive man, saw values in the feared animal: it is shrewd, wary, wise and knows how to get out of a difficult situation. The dove, the symbol of submission, will necessarily be the counterpoint of the serpent. Shrewdness is also a Christian virtue as it is a human virtue. The equilibrium that is necessary so that shrewdness is not transformed into cynicism and innocence does not convert itself into stupidity, may be obtained by Christians in the constant confrontation of their actions with the word of God, with reality and with the advice given by the Christian community.