The Unjust Steward
This past Sunday, the Gospel reading was Luke 16:1-13. In this reading, a steward, (a trusted servant responsible for the household of his master), has wasted his master’s goods. He is told to prepare an accounting, as he will be removed from his position. In something of a panic, he calls in his master’s debtors and reduces their debts to curry favor with them that he might have some recourse after losing his position. On its face, he appears to continue to mismanage his master’s affairs, again for his own benefit. And then we have this odd reaction from his master:
“The master commended the dishonest steward for his prudence…” Luke 16:8a
This is followed by Jesus saying to the Pharisees: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.” Luke 16: 9
So, am I the only one that was ever confused by this? Looks to me like Jesus is telling us to lie, cheat and steal to gain heaven. I’ve never been particularly enlightened by any of the homilies I’ve heard on this either. Most times the focus is on the earlier reading from Amos, which talks about how the people “observe the Sabbath” by not selling and cheating in the marketplace, yet, their hearts and minds are focused on when they can resume their dishonest lives instead of on the worship of God. Let’s face it, there is a lot of material to work with there, in our time as much as 2000 years ago.
And then some kind of attempt is made to tie in the other reading and the Gospel into a social justice theme.
But, I just get stuck on Jesus telling the Pharisees to buy their way into heaven.
There is a practice called lectio divina, a way of praying with Scripture. It involves slowly reading, more than once, more than twice, a passage. It involves letting some word or phrase soak in, something that calls your attention. It involves meditation and contemplation. By meditation, practically speaking, is meant to attempt to immerse yourself, see the people, imagine the smells, the weather, feel the heat or cold, the sandals on your feet, the rough bench or whatever, as you sink into the scene. By contemplation, practically speaking, is meant to listen with that certain inner self to whatever might come to you.
For me, this also entails reading a couple of different study bible translations and reading the commentary. I had gone back to do that this morning and it hit me. Charles Dickens has written the best commentary on this Gospel reading, A Christmas Carol.
Think of the master in this parable as God. Think of all of us as stewards of God’s creation, responsible for the proper use of our master’s belongings. Think of how we waste God’s manifold gifts.
If the master is understood to be God, and if we understand that everything is gifted to us, and we see how we use and abuse and misuse our gifts, then we are all unjust stewards at some level, and Scrooge is the quintessential example. He has used his gifts to amass wealth to the detriment of others. Scrooge is shown his own grave by the Ghost of Christmas Future. And if dying is seen as “losing our position” as stewards of God’s household, then is not Scrooge’s actions Christmas morning (and everyday after) the same as the unjust steward when he reduces the debts owed to his master? And do we not commend Scrooge for his prudence? As Dickens noted: “…and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”
Scrooge tells the ghost of Jacob Marley that he was always a good man of business. The response:
Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
I think I understand the parable now.