The Dishonest Steward

The parts of the gospels I have always enjoyed more are those that get me thinking. Well, this one should be my favourite. I have tried looking at this several ways and I have had much trouble trying to make sense of any of it. Is it a model of how to butter people up with forgiveness, or cheating when needed to look as if your work tallies or is honest, or does the master praise the steward because everyone loves him for allowing his steward to cut their debt? Why then, would the steward do it to be welcomed into his master's debtors houses?

Here's the scripture;

-- Click To Expand/Collapse Bible Verses -- Luke ch16:v1-15
Luk 16:1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
Luk 16:2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
Luk 16:3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
Luk 16:4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
Luk 16:5 So he called every one of his lord 's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, how much owest thou unto my lord?
Luk 16:6 And he said, A hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
Luk 16:7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, A hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
Luk 16:8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
Luk 16:9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
Luk 16:10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
Luk 16:11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches ?
Luk 16:12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man 's, who shall give you that which is your own?
Luk 16:13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Luk 16:14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
Luk 16:15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

My first impression was that the steward, because he had been accused of "wasting" or squandering his master's goods, had been caught with his fingers in the cookie jar. However, instead of re-stocking the storehouse in his master's house to avoid prison, By cutting the debt of his masters debtors, he accomplishes just the opposite.

It is possible he had been somewhat dishonest, but once the accusation was made, honest or not his master had already fired him. Since he was fired for something (guilty or no) he cut the debt because the accusation once made allowed him afterwards to squander the goods with a measure of impunity. - Then he could do a few favours and be none the worst off himself - by cutting the debt he found a way in to another's employment.

Why then would his master commend him? The tally of goods both in and out of the storehouse was lower than it should be. However, as the manager of his master's financial affairs he was able to cut the debt. - This was not a crime in the usual sense because he had the authority to do so.

Since the stewards authority was as his masters own, the master would have been the one commended for the generosity shown his debtors. When it finally became time for the steward to leave, Did his lord gave him a good reference because he had made a good name for his lord? Is his good name which is more valuable than the wastage?

In real life monetary terms the commendation makes absolutely no sense. The steward should have been jailed for this behaviour. The analogy to God's will, that we forgive others their "debts" as we are forgiven is the meaning of this passage. However the monetary side makes no sense in this case because serving God is not to be confused with how one serves money, or an employer's financial expectations.

Jesus was derided for this parable by the Pharisees because the parable made no financial sense. To them it was nonsense (v14) Sound financial sense that would make the story as bunk is in God's view opposed to any understanding of the will of God.

Verse 9 presents the interpretation that we should forgive the sins of others that we may have someone to testify to our good works and kindness on the day of our own reckoning. The first person sinned against is always the person of God, and by forgiving debt (the sins of others) Jesus teaches that our sins become occluded by the glory and thanksgiving to God. Whilst our sins are covered by the blood shed by Christ on the cross, we are reminded to forgive others as we were forgiven.

Verse 10 and onwards are either a crucial part of the parable, or they are not. I think that indeed they are. The statement in verse 10 seems common sense. But what about v11? Forgiving is critical to our salvation. That is the "true riches". But in finance, faithfulness is dog eat dog.

To make money in this world sometimes requires a great deal more than slyness, or wisdom. It often involves kicking someone when they are down. Being faithful in another's money, if money is the driving force, means kicking someone.

The steward knew his lord well. God is not so interested in debt of sin as in those whom would glorify him. Like the stewards master, the money meant less to him and his steward knew it. Were his master only interested in money the steward would not have perhaps lived. The stewards wisdom, slyness or worldliness in knowing the heart of his master is crucial. Serving mammon, the steward would have not been commended unless he had been even more dishonest to make back the loss.

These two masters, God and mammon are totally opposed. Either someone is scrupulously honest with mammon and gets commended (by God), or someone is totally dishonest (in God's eyes) in order to appear successful, and therefore serves mammon in its own dog eat dog faithfulness. The bottom line with mammon is totally opposed to writing off debt everywhere. But what then after work? Do you call Godly obedience a second job only within strict hours? Goodwill and kindness and charity appear poor entries on a balance sheet, and would get you fired or even jail time for trying with company money.

Faithfulness in unrighteous mammon v11, to serve God will lead to everlasting life, forgiving others reinforces that you are forgiven yourself. Likewise, pursuing successful dishonesty with another's mammon will lead to yourself being trusted as more successful (and more reliant on "unethical finance") (v12) The terms "faithful" and "unjust" in v10 are not mutually exclusive: both apply in opposition with respect from God to mammon, and from mammon to God.

One can not serve God and Mammon. Either serve a master with a good heart, or a cruel bottom-line. Only one of the two is ready to forgive, and the other breeds dishonesty. Success, as Jesus puts it in reply to the derision of the Pharisees may be highly esteemed, but is an abomination towards God.

If you are still a little confused by the lords commendation to the steward, let me stress it makes no sense AT ALL with money matters. Being good* towards God and good with money are completely opposed. It is not supposed to make any monetary sense - that is the point. It makes only sense towards God, that someone could be commended for such forgiveness.

* to exceed expectations

However there is a metaphysical interpretation here. Every debtor to the master is corrected at some point as to their faulty assumptions of God's perfection towards them. In correcting the record (the ledger) of their "assumptions" the "debts" are cut down in a similar manner one would prune a bush to make it "fruitful". By providing a much more fruitful set of "servants" to the rich man (God) each debtor is brought into continuing in truth towards God - their doctrine cut down to that which is known to be correct by the steward of the doctrine.

The mammon of unrighteousness would be those portions of a believer's doctrine that are incorrect or contradictory on L(G): Making friends of those whom you correct (to relieve their burdens) is to be prepared to become rich in reward when you are met by those to whom they are ministering to in the future - to become accepted in their houses.

He that is faithful in little - i.e. teaching on the basis of L(G) - (the mustard seed) gives and gains great reward in the gospel, but those that are not faithful upon this axiom are unfruitful in and upon many things - and are overburdened with the "mammon of unrighteousness". By holding fast to L(G) in all teaching one may be trustworthy with true riches in the kingdom of God. Correcting others in light of the truth of the gospel will result in discernment to gain wealth in doctrine for yourself.

So, as to serving God and mammon? The methods we associate with mammon,.. if we love "them" then we are no use to God. We must be diligent to treat the truth for that which it is - a free renewable resource in our hands as stewards.

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