Unjustified and Loving Every Minute of It

For we write to you nothing but what you can read and understand; I hope you will understand fully, as you have understood in part. 2 Corinthians 1:13-14

JustifedYet then there is that unjust steward (Luke 16) who meets us by way of Jesus’ parables and has been a qualm of our faith for centuries. Are we to underhandedly and sneakily build the kingdom? Is Jesus teaching us that it is wise to take whatever actions necessary, even dishonest ones, to ensure our needs are met?

It appears the good doctor Luke, understanding the nature of men, strategically eliminated these options by following this parable with a word on our handling of mammon. So what is the message of the parable? Why was the steward considered wise, and the children of the kingdom encouraged to follow his lead?

In this story, a manager of a wealthy man’s properties is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, or at least mismanaging his loot. The master terminates his employee, who realizes he’s not cut out for manual labor and does not like the thought of begging, so he concocts a plan. He allows his master’s renters to get one over on their debt-holder, to pocket what should have been payment. It leads one to wonder why the master was such a softy in his handling of the firing of his steward.

His master could have possibly taken legal action or worse; but he didn’t. He could have demanded retribution; but he didn’t. It seems the master is even allowing the steward time to get his books in order, setting himself up for the folly that follows.

I think we are supposed to pick up on the fact that the steward does not defend himself. He hears the accusation, takes ownership of his guilt, then begins to plot. He strikes deals with those who owe his master by bridging a union of his own rapport with that of the wealthy landowner.

It probably sounded something like this, “Our good master has chosen to show compassion on you today, so break out your debt books and knock a decent percentage of what you owe off the top!” He has now linked himself with the master by being the bearer of joyful news to a band of farm-land renters. They will be able to keep and sell a greater portion of their crops.

So what will happen when the master finds out what the steward has done? What will be his response when the renters show up with a lesser payment? While the text clearly allows us to know the response, “You are one shrewd dude,” we are sort of left scratching our heads wondering why, and especially when Jesus joins in the high-fiving of this unjust steward by poking at we kingdom kids for not being just as wily.

I jested not when denoting that this parable has been a thorn in the paw of biblical scholars for a long, long time. Many have just sat it on the back burner and refused to get caught up in the speculation. Others take stabs at it, but still admit that being dogmatic is ill-advised. One author, Kenneth Bailey, offers these words.

Kenneth Bailey Parables“A summary of the theological cluster of this parable can be briefly stated as follows: God (the master) is a God of judgment and mercy. Because of his evil, man (the steward) is caught in the crisis of the coming of the kingdom. Excuses will avail the steward nothing. Man’s only option is to entrust everything to the unfailing mercy of his generous master who, he can be confident, will accept to pay the price for man’s salvation. This clever rascal was wise enough to place his total trust in the quality of mercy experienced at the beginning of the story. That trust was vindicated. Disciples need the same kind of wisdom.”

Is it possible that the manager of the master’s goods is merely being praised for wisely recognizing the merciful character of his master?

About mtsweat

Seeking the rest that is only promised and found in Christ Jesus, along with my treasured wife of more than twenty-five years, we seek to grow in our relationship with our Heavenly Father, walk with the Holy Spirit as He moves our hearts, loving others always as Jesus loves us, and carry the news of His glory, the wonderful gospel, that gives light and life where there once was only darkness.
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6 Responses to Unjustified and Loving Every Minute of It

  1. ccragamuffin says:

    Hmmmmmmm. Was the master merciful? Jesus wasn’t commending the unjust craftiness of the steward, the rich man was. Perhaps the rich man was rich because he himself was crafty. Was he recognizing a kindred spirit? Was Jesus telling a tale of intrigue to catch the attention on the topic?
    Just pondering what the original listener would have heard.

    • ccragamuffin says:

      Something a good friend has taught me to consider!

    • mtsweat says:

      Great point. I wish A-J Levine might have chosen to give an offering on this one, but no. Actually though, the author referenced does indeed focus his entire studies through the lens of the culture of eastern Mediterranean eyes. He has spent decades in the Middle East both studying and teaching there. Most of his references stem from eastern commentators. He begins his writing on the parables by describing our basic problem in being unable to recognize their intent is our cultural foreignness to those original hearers.

      He approaches this parable by first examining three questions, “1. Is the master assumed to be an honorable man, or a partner in crime? 2. Is the steward shorting the master or himself? Are the cuts he offers from the master’s take, or his? 3. Is the steward the manager of land rentals or an agent for a money-lender?” His claim is that the entire parable’s purpose hinges on answering these questions.

      On that first question (which you allude), the author chooses the previous based on these evidences: 1. the surrounding stories and parables have contrasting characters, 2. no criticism is leveled at the master, 3. a shyster master would have reacted differently regarding his losses. The steward is dismissed, but not scolded, punished, or jailed.

      This of course is not an attempt to defend his stance, as I’m aware of the many different takes on the master of this story, just a little more information so as to give him credibility as a studied teacher of the Word.

      • ccragamuffin says:

        Thanks for the info, and taking the time to expound. It is indeed a fascinating parable from the greatest storyteller. Worth the time of discovering what other listeners have heard in it. And interesting also that when we come to “and the moral of the story is…”, that there are a wide range of conclusions.

        • mtsweat says:

          Yes, wholeheartedly agree. Interestingly, the author at onfaith (following post) has these words to say regarding our wide range of conclusions:

          “We are the first generation to grow up in the age of information technology, and we have at our fingertips hundreds of commentaries, sermons, ideas, and books. We can engage with Biblical scholars on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s impossible not to see the way that their doctrines – rooted in the same Bible – differ and clash.

          We’re acutely aware of the Bible’s intricacies. We know the Bible is clear about some things– but also that much is not clear. We know the words are weighted to a culture that we don’t completely understand and that the scholars will never all agree.

          We want to hear our pastors approach these words with humility and reverence. Saying, “This is where study and prayer have led me, but I could be wrong,” does infinitely more to secure our trust than The Bible clearly says…”

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