Today I heard the best explanation of the parable of the "Unjust Steward" that I have ever heard. Or maybe it is the parable of the "Shrewd Manager." Either way, thanks to the homily of my pastor today, I think I may finally understand this parable.
The title of this post gives it away. Jesus, Our Lord and Savior is the unjust steward, the shrewd manager. How else to find favor in the hearts of us all than to write off or write down our debts completely? How else could this steward's master find favor with him, unless Our Lord is the steward and God is the rich man? Let's look at the passage from today's gospel reading.
Luke 16: 1-13
Jesus said to his disciples,
"A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said,'What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship,because you can no longer be my steward.'
So far, so good. The conventional wisdom appears to be holding sway. Prepare yourself for a contrarian twist.
The steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that,when I am removed from the stewardship,they may welcome me into their homes.'
He called in his master's debtors one by one. To the first he said,'How much do you owe my master?'
Now. Start thinking this is Our Lord speaking of himself. You know the popular "What Would Jesus Do" question? WWJD? This is it. Back to the debtor (insert character of yourself here).
He replied, 'One hundred measures of olive oil.'
He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.'
Note the lack of any complaint or push-back on the part of the debtor. This guy knows a good deal when he hears it. A little while later,
Then to another the steward said, 'And you, how much do you owe?'
He replied, 'One hundred kors of wheat.'
The steward said to him, 'Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.'
Another bargain, and another taker. Right about now, the conventional wisdom lover in you is getting angry, right? This son-of-a-mule is undermining his masters wealth and business. Bad manager! Only one problem. The bad manager gets commended for it.
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light."
Read that sentence one more time. Go ahead, I'll wait. He says the worldly are more prudent in their dealings with others than are the special ones, these "children of light." Is this cutting you to the quick a little? It did me.
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Remember how the Scribes and Pharisees were always chiding Our Lord about him hanging out with unsavory types, you know, those nasty sinners, publicans, and tax collectors? Ahem, yes, the saavy ones instead of the "righteous" ones. Be clever like the former and not disdainful like the latter.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?
Do these two sentences have your head swimming? What a paradox, right? Sentence A = conventional wisdom, and we nod our heads in agreement. Then, Sentence B turns sentence A on its head and we shake our heads and yell "no!" We're all left scratching our heads so He says,
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon."
Because we individually don't own anything, see, but we are all, instead, in debt up to our eyeballs. We are indebted to God, because everything we have is a gift. A gift which we must be stewards of. Good stewards, who pat ourselves on the back for our good work? Or unjust stewards, like the model we see here?
Quick, lean your head back so you can breath (!) or else you will drown in debt. And then give thanks to God that He sent His Son, the unjust steward, to write down all of our debts to zero. In that way, through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, can our lives be truly restored. For He also said,
Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners. (Matthew 9:13)
If you knew what this meant, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned these innocent men. (Matthew 12:7)
He taught us to pray "forgive us our debts" which He does for us so easily, and as the unjust steward did, so readily, so cleverly. But He also asks us to pray these words: "as we have also forgiven our debtors."
Now this is agape in action. Speaking only for myself, I know I need to work on being more forgiving. How about you?