Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Romulo Neri: steward or switik?

It was probably propitious the lector assigned last Sunday (September 23) could not meet his ministry schedule so I was asked to change my own and pitch in for him. The timing seemed perfect because the first, second and Gospel readings have some striking bearing upon certain hot-button issues in the Philippines today that I’ve wanted to write about.

The first reading was from the Book of the prophet Amos whose prophetic tenure is believed to have taken place in the 8th century.

Amos 8:4-7 (New International Version) reads:
Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,

saying “When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?”—
skimping the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,

buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob:
“I will never forget anything they have done.”
While in the selection quoted, prophet Amos has again denounced the abuse of the poor and the lowly by the wealthy and the privileged, a common theme in other Amos’ oracles and in those of other major prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah, it was however different in the sense that it highlighted the conjunction of the religious hypocrisy of the rich and economic exploitation.

To drive home his point, Amos cited specifically the impatience of the wealthy with religious bans during Sabbath that cut the bottom line, their underhanded and corrupt practices and the “commoditization” of people.

The first two examples of breaches of fair dealing could be as old as the Bible and commerce. As to the third, in the age of universal respect for individual liberty, one would be hard put first to find an appropriate analog today – until he starts thinking of the plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

In the second reading (1Timothy 2:1-8), St. Paul has instructed the Christian communities “that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone - for kings and for all in authority so that we may live peaceful and quite lives.”

By “we” however could mean the Christian communities only which, as mere subjects, were at the receiving end of the policies of the Imperial rule (essentially by tyrants, not by rulers democratically chosen by the people), and as to which, even when those policies were so conceived to repress Christians, they have no say; therefore, those supplications, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings by the Christians were in some way self-serving, the invocation being ultimately in order to be “let alone” in their ways.

In the current context, it may be well to note that certain fundamental requirements of supposedly democratic societies are honored more in the breach than in the observance. If for instance only a handful of interlocking corporate ownerships control the TV networks and the print media, is freedom of speech a meaningful freedom for the majority or the vast many in the Philippines (or even in mature democracies like the U.S.)? Or have the peoples’ representatives in fact been voted to office by fair and free elections? When an un-elected High Tribunal, bounded only by the consciences of the individual members, frequently sets and selects the ground rules of governance, can ours still be considered a representative democracy? And why are so many people so politically desensitized they would rather just pray and “move on” than exercise the full extent of their citizenship so that “we may lead a quiet and tranquil life”?

The Gospel reading (Luke 16:1-13), a reflection on the concept of stewardship, reads:

TheParable of the Shrewd Steward
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
“ ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Literally, a steward is a household manager who takes care of the property of the absentee owner.

According to the Anchor commentary of Father Joseph Fiztmyer, the estate under management in this parable was losing money so, to make the owner whole, the steward has made the choice to take the loss himself by cutting down on his pay (since he was paid by commission for running the estate) and save the estate (upon the profitable operation of which many more people possibly depended).

Management guru Peter Block defines stewardship as “ the willingness to be accountable for the well-being of the larger organization.” It is choosing service over self-interest.

Is Romulo Neri a shrewd steward who cut down on his bottom line to serve the larger community? Or is he, as mlq3 has described him, a switik, plain and simple?


Post a Comment

<< Home