A rich man, an unjust steward, and a twisty parable. You think you know where it’s going, and it twists away—well, like Jesus slipping through a crowd when the authorities are out to get him. This time it’s us, as if we were story police, who expect parables to work so we get them. We know Jesus turns things upside down—the last are first, blessed are the underdogs, but this passage goes sideways.
There’s a steward—someone who acts as treasurer for the family, collecting and paying bills, paying servants their wages. And this master, Mr. Rich Man, hears that the steward has been scattering money around, squandering it. Rich Man says, you’re fired, and give me an accounting.
Does the steward confess and say he’s sorry, and get forgiven happily ever after?
No—he cancels big parts of the debts people owe Mr. Rich Man, which means he’s wasting even more money that isn’t his.
Does Mr. Rich get even more angry when he finds out what the steward has done?
No—the narrator calls the steward “unjust” while Rich Man praises the steward for being shrewd. The steward thinks the people whose debts he reduced will help him out, and Rich Man praises him for smart thinking.
We don’t know if the steward gets to keep his job or not; the story ends here.
But now, Jesus steps out of parable-telling and says, “let me tell you something.”
Jesus tells us that people tied to this age—to the material and mortal world—are better at dealing with this world than we are, we who are trying to live into the Kingdom of God, to be children of the Light.
So the advice Jesus gives? “make friends for yourself with dishonest wealth, so that they [the worldly ones] will welcome you into eternal homes,” just as the steward thought he would get to be a permanent guest of one of those debtors after he was fired). Now, that word for “home” happens to mean “tent”, originally—maybe you live in it permanently, but it’s not a fixed home. And the word gets used mostly for the backdrop on the stage—not a real home, an illusion of a home.
Maybe Jesus is saying that even as children of light, as part of the Kingdom of God, we still need to deal with the world we live in. Money is a part of this world, but not part of the Kingdom of Heaven. We have to live here—we have to use money—but we should not value it, not regard it as a true or lasting good. Remember the man who built barns for his big harvest, then died without getting any benefit from that wealth?
Throughout Luke’s Gospel, the parables have talked about trustworthiness—as this one does; familiar ground. Be trustworthy here, while you wait for the Lord; when you are invited to the banquet, be ready and come; use your money as the Samaritan does, to help an injured stranger. There are those who don’t get in to the feast, who find the door locked; they did not pay attention to what Jesus has told them to do, and they have not used what they had to do what was needed.
The word “steward” occurs more often in this passage from Luke than anyplace else in the Bible. It’s not in the Old Testament at all. “As good stewards” of your gifts from God, use your gift in service to others [1 Peter 4:10]. As stewards of the secrets of God, Paul says, we need to be trustworthy [1 Cor 4:1-2]. And a bishop, Paul tells Titus, must be “blameless, as the steward of God” [Titus 1:7].
The Greek word for steward, OIKONOMOS (our word “economy”), means “house rules”—my house, my rules, my way of doing things. But we are in God’s house, God’s world and it is God’s people and God’s creation we are to be trustworthy stewards of.
Because we’re in this world which is not wholly in the Kingdom of God, sometimes we have to deal with money to do so. Our task is to determine what is honest, what dishonest wealth, and decide how best, how shrewdly but faithfully we use what is entrusted to us.
|Sep 18, 2016||Pentecost 18||Listen||Download|