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The Parable of the Unjust

by Pastor Douglas Shearer

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The Parable of the Unjust Steward

Jesus said to his disciples: there was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man, the steward, was wasting his goods.

So he called him and said to him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be my steward.”

Then the steward said to himself, “What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot be a common laborer; and I’m ashamed to beg.”

I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.”

So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, “How much do you owe my master?”

And he said, “A hundred measures of oil.” So he said to him, “Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.”

Then he said to another, “And how much do you owe?” So he said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” And he said to him, “Take your bill, and write eighty.”

So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.

And I say to you (speaking to his disciples), make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteous, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting tabernacles.

Luke 16:1-9

I know this parable is difficult to understand – especially the last two verses, verses 8 and 9. But I’ll walk you through it.

First of all, let’s look at its context. Two distinct kinds of people are crowding around Jesus to hear what he’s teaching: his disciples and the Pharisees. His disciples – who have been drawn largely from the riff-raff of Jewish society and whose number includes more than merely the twelve apostles – know that they’re sinners; and have no trouble acknowledging it. A good many before becoming disciples were what the Bible calls “publicans”– meaning they were money-hungry shake-down thugs and scam artists who stopped at nothing to squeeze the poor for one more dime.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, are smug and sanctimonious – certain of their own righteousness – convinced that it warrants God’s approval – and contemptuous of the riff-raff claiming to be Jesus’ disciples. They’re the religious hypocrites of their day. The parable is specifically addressed to the disciples, not to the Pharisees – though Jesus knows that the Pharisees are lurking close by – listening to what he’s teaching.

The specific identity of the rich man is unimportant – meaning it adds nothing to the truth the parable is meant to convey; only two points about the rich man are pertinent: (1) that he owns the wealth the steward is managing – meaning the wealth is his, not the steward’s; and (2) that his authority entitles him to hire and fire the steward at his own discretion.

The steward has been employed by the rich man to manage his wealth – that’s what a steward does; he’s what today we might call a business manager or an accountant. The scope of the steward’s authority is vast – which was quite common in Jesus’ day and is still common today. The wealth isn’t his, but he’s in charge of it – almost totally.

The parable revolves around a dilemma the steward faces: he’s about to be fired – meaning he’s about to lose his stewardship – and with it all the wealth he has been enjoying.

The reason Jesus gives for the steward’s dismissal is dishonesty; that’s what the word “accusation” implies. However, that’s not important to the lesson that’s being taught. One possible reason Jesus has chosen a dishonest rather than an honest steward to be the leading figure of his parable is that his disciples can identify with him. Remember, before becoming his disciples they too were dishonest money-grubbers concerned mostly with acquiring wealth and spending it on themselves – and pity the person who got in their way. Not much else mattered to them.

Knowing that he’s about to be fired – but still in charge of his employer’s wealth – still authorized to manage that wealth however he sees fit - the steward asks himself: “With the time I have left until I’m fired and lose all the wealth I’ve been managing, what can I do with it to provide for my future?”

That’s the point of the whole parable - that one question! Let me say it again: “With the time I have left until I’m fired and lose all the wealth I’ve been managing, what can I do with it to provide for my future?”

item5It’s not important to the truth Jesus wants conveyed how the steward in the parable gains his end; all that matters is…

  • that he addresses his dilemma straight on – without burying his head in the sand; and
  • that he concocts a scheme that’s shrewd – meaning effective – well calculated to achieve the end he wants – to provide for his well-being after he’s discharged from his stewardship.

And that’s why the rich man commends his steward – not how he achieves his end – the dishonesty he employs, but that, once again,

  • he addresses his dilemma straight on; and
  • he concocts a shrewd scheme that’s well calculated to provide for his well-being after he’s fired.

And that’s the whole point of the next two verses, verses 8 and 9. We’ll begin first with verse 8.

For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.

Luke 16:8 …

The term “sons of this world” is a figure of speech common among Jewish rabbis at the time of Jesus. It means anyone…

  • who harbors little or no concern about God;
  • who’s consumed with the cares of this life;
  • whose every thought turns upon taking care of himself;
  • who’s concerned first and foremost with “Big Number One”…

…exactly the kind of person most of his disciples were before they gave their lives to God!

The phrase “in their generation” simply means “with their kind;” and the phrase “sons of the light” refers, of course, to Jesus’ disciples. So what we have here is quite simple: “The unsaved, who harbor little or no concern about God, are wiser than the saved in the use of their money to provide for their futures among their own kind.”

Now for verse 9…

And I say to you (speaking to his disciples), make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteous, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting tabernacles.

Luke 16:9

The word “friends” in verse 9 refers back to verse 4 – specifically to the pronoun “they.”

I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their homes.”

Luke 16:4

Remember the friends there in verse 4 were his master’s debtors whose favor he curried with his dishonesty. He used his control over his master’s holdings to reduce the amount of debt each of his master’s debtors owed – and, in doing so, he made them his friends – willing to take him into their homes after he was fired – meaning, willing to help him out and attend to his needs.

The term “mammon of unrighteousness” is simply a Jewish figure of speech meaning “worldly wealth.” The term “when you fail” means “when you die.” And the term “everlasting tabernacles” is merely another Jewish figure of speech meaning “heaven” – and conveys the same meaning of “homes” in verse 4.

Here, then, is what Jesus is saying:

If an unrighteous steward can – with diligent foresight and a “shrewd” use of the money under his care – provide for his future after he’s discharged from his stewardship, why can’t you be just as shrewd – you, my disciples?

You too are stewards – stewards of the wealth and riches God has put under your care. You aren’t the owners of that wealth; you’re only its stewards. It all belongs to God, not to you. And someday you’ll be stripped of your stewardship just as surely as the steward was in the parable – meaning you’ll die; and when that occurs - and it most surely will – whatever wealth you’ve accumulated will pass from your control.

In light of that fact, are you using the wealth God has put under your care – while you still retain control over it – to provide for your future when you get to heaven?

Can’t you see that whatever you’ve spent of your wealth while here on earth to further the purposes of God will be waiting to welcome you with honor and glory as you enter heaven. Why, then, do you spend 98% of your time, your attention, your wealth, and your efforts on what won’t carry over into heaven and only 2% spent on what will?

That’s just not smart! You were smarter than that before you became my disciples.

Once again, following Christ - being 100% devoted to him - isn’t just a matter of what’s morally right and wrong; it’s just as much a matter of what’s wise and what’s foolish. Remember:

  • all of what you invest in the here and now - in this life - all of it will all be lost when you die; however, on the other hand,
  • all of what you invest in advancing the kingdom of God - all of what you invest in becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ - all of it will carry over into heaven and be there waiting for you when you die.

Most Christians aren’t connecting the dots, are they? They haven’t

  • thought through what it means to be redeemed;
  • what it means to be a child of God;
  • what it means to follow Jesus;
  • what thinking like Jesus really looks and feels like.

But that shouldn’t be true of disciples – of anyone who wants to press beyond merely being a believer to being a disciple. One of the marks of a true disciple – an authentic disciple – not merely a believer only – is that he has thought through…

  • what it means to be redeemed;
  • what it means to be a child of God;
  • what it means to follower of Jesus;
  • what it means to think like Jesus…

…and, in so doing, he has radically changed the way he thinks about his priorities – about what's important in life of how he uses his life.

Are you a really a disciple of Jesus Christ, not just a believer, but a disciple? If you are, it will surely show itself in your priorities - in how you spend your time, your energy, and, of course, your money.

 

 

 

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The Parable of the Unjust