February 9, 2020

The Parable of the Unjust Steward, Or Using God’s Resources for Good Purposes, Or A Good Lesson from a Bad Example

Passage: Luke 16:1-13

Over the last several months, a rather obscure Latin phrase has become much more common within our language—quid pro quo. The phrase means literally “something for something.” I will do something for you with the expectation that you will do something for me. People engage in quid pro quos often and in many different contexts. Even politicians, I understand, sometimes engage in quid pro quos.

In the parable we’re looking at today, Jesus gives us an example of an unjust steward who uses a quid pro quo for his own benefit. He does a favor for people in the hopes that people will do a favor for him.

We are in a section of Luke that contains several parables. Today’s passage is often titled “The Parable of the Unjust Steward.” This is a rather unusual and difficult parable in that Jesus uses the case of a corrupt household manager to make a point.

In order to understand the parable, we have to know what a steward is. A steward is someone who manages someone else’s property, i.e., a business manager or administrator, maybe an accountant. And in this case, even though the steward is unjust, Jesus uses him as an example of someone who made wise decisions. He teaches a good lesson from a bad example.

One of the remarkable characteristics of parables is that they teach by means of memorable and sometimes surprising or shocking language. That’s what Jesus seems to be doing here—using somewhat shocking story to convey his point in a memorable way. This is a rather difficult parable to unwind and explain.

Let’s look at the text. The unjust steward comes up with a plan (.4-7): He called those who were indebted to his employer and reduced the amounts of what they owed. These debtors would have appreciated what he did for them—he reduced their bills substantially; he gave them a big discount. I.e., he did them a big favor. His hope was that one of those debtors would do a big favor for him—hire him, give him a job. I give you something, you give me something. This is the way the world works. QPQ

Jesus is obviously not suggesting that we cheat our employers in the hopes that we’ll get a job with someone who benefitted from our corruption. That’s the way the world often works, but that’s not how Christians ought to behave. Jesus is not overturning the biblical teaching on honesty and fairness. He’s merely using a character in a fictional story to make a point about being shrewd or astute in how we prepare for the future. The unjust steward shows us the importance of using present opportunities to provide for future needs.

How do we use God’s resources for good purposes? How do we use present opportunities to provide for future needs?

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