The Parable of the unjust steward part 2
Luke’s gospel account of Jesus places the parable of the unjust steward, Luke 16:1-13 right after the parable of the prodigal son with a bitter older brother, Luke 15. Alone, the second parable is difficult to understand. Briefly, a certain rich man finds out his accountant is cheating him, fudging the books in his own benefit. The accountant finds out his boss has found him out and panics. He has not done physical labor to provide for himself (interestingly, he is not worried about punishment such as jail or execution). So his big plan is to fudge the boss’s books even more and make friends with the boss’s indebted clients by cutting some of their debts in half. When the boss found this out, he was pleased with the steward’s shrewd foresight.
Thus, any reader should conclude, Jesus believes financial fraud is perfectly acceptable. Right? But that’s completely incongruent with everything else Jesus teaches. The episode concludes with an injunction from Jesus, verse 9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.”
Before I go further, I want to flip back to Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer. “And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” (11:6) Luke uses financial language, “indebtedness”, unlike Matthew who uses property language, “trespasses.”
Back to the unjust steward. I think it makes more sense in the proximity of the prodigal son story. The pissed off older brother is uptight that the dad is spending extravagantly on the return of the bad boy. How is the kid supposed to learn a lesson with a reception like that? And what’s going to happen to that inheritance if it’s being blown on offenders like that kid? In response, the dad tells him the fortune is always available to him, just like it was to his brother. But the fortune is not the point, the relationship is. The wealth is found in relationship. The steward’s boss, the stand in for God, knows this as well. The net worth is not found in the coins but in the network. We all steal more forgiveness from God than we earn. We all make more selfish choices than choices for love. And if we are going to take more than we deserve, we might as well give out as much forgiveness as we can as well, enlarging our community of love and forgiveness and generosity. In my case, if I am to be judged by the measure I judge myself. Luke anticipates this in Jesus’ sermon on the plain in 6:27-38
27 “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. 31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.32 “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.37 “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
I am fudging God's books. I am learning to be generous, not just in cash or time, but relationally, which is why I’ve been trying to live open handedly, a topic I wrote about nearly 2 years ago. I wrote about this parable last spring as well.