Wednesday, March 10, 1999

The Unjust Steward


Luke 16:1-13

In this parable Jesus tells the story of a rich man who had a trusted, highly paid steward who was dishonest and squandered the rich man's wealth. When the rich man asked the steward to give an account of his missing funds, the rich man told him that he would be dismissed because he could not account for the missing assets. The steward then reasoned that when others found out about his situation, he would find himself in desperate straits. Either he would have to earn a living by hard labor or resort to begging. Since neither of these options appealed to him, he devised a scheme that would ensure his future.

His master had a lot of debtors, and he reasoned that if he could reduce their debts, they would be obligated to him. So before the debtors discovered that he was about to be fired, he offered to reduce their debts. Since the money involved was considerable, the debtors accepted his offer.

According to Jeremias, the first debtor owed the yield of 146 olive trees, or about 1,000 denarii, the equivalent of three years of labor. The second debtor owed the yield of about 100 acres of wheat or the equivalent of 2,500 denarii seven years of labor. 1 The steward reduced the first person's debt by fifty percent and the second by twenty percent, thus reducing their debts by an equal amount. The steward reasoned that his offer would put the rich man’s debtors in his debt so that when he was fired, they would be obliged to take care of him.

When the steward was dismissed, the rich man discovered the scheme too late to undo it. While he knew that he had been swindled, he could not help but admire the cleverness of his former steward.

On the surface, the parable may imply that we can scheme our way into the kingdom, but obviously that is not the point that Jesus was making. He was talking about using wealth wisely in the light of the judgment. Buttrick put it this way:

But did this lord commend the deceitful underling? Verily, but not for his deceit! He commended him for his astuteness. Every one at times singles from an unprincipled character some trait for admiration. . . . This parable approves not the fraudulence of the Unjust Steward, but his foresight. Then did Jesus use such a man as an example? Yes--as an example in resource, not as an example in point of corruption. 2

The parable also implies that when future events are known, we should prepare for them.

Jesus is not saying to the uncommitted that they should use money to earn their salvation, but he is telling those who already are his followers that they must demonstrate the fruits befitting repentance even (or perhaps especially) in the area of worldly wealth. 3

Eugene Lang is a graduate of East Harlem's PS 121 in New York City. Today he is a wealthy industrialist. One hot day he went to PS 121 and made a promise to the graduating sixth graders that if they graduated from high school, he would pay their way through college. The low-income black and Hispanic students in this school had a dropout rate of seventy-five percent.

Of the fifty-four students in that sixth grade class, forty-four have graduated and thirty-four are attending college. This singular gesture led to the establishment of the I Have a Dream Foundation funded by corporations and individuals, which provides funds for 8000 students in twenty-five cities.

Our money should be used for the furtherance of God's kingdom here on earth. It means that when we invest our money in people by providing opportunities for them to grow spiritually, psychologically, and socially, we become more Christ like, more generous and less covetous. This is laying up treasure in heaven because character is the only thing we can take with us into the kingdom. Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21)

Money does not earn us salvation, but how we use money is an indication of where our values lie. Luke 16:10-13 emphasizes the importance of the use of money. "If then you have not been faithful with wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?"

In this parable Jesus asks us to face the reality of a future reckoning. Then he calls us to secure our future by using the money we have been entrusted with to extend Christ’s kingdom on earth and to assist us in developing characters required for heavenly citizenship.

1 Jeremias, p. 181.

2 Buttrick, p. 118.

3 Blomberg, p. 244

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