Money – one of those subjects it’s not polite to talk about but which has an impact on all our lives for good or ill. Jesus, of course, was never constrained by what was polite to talk about and what wasn’t. He was concerned about helping the Kingdom of God to become a reality by teaching his listeners how to live God’s way. In the passage today we find him teaching his disciples, although it’s apparent in the verse immediately after the passage that the Pharisees were also listening in.
The main part of this reading is a parable. There’s no surprise there – Jesus regularly taught in parables. Usually parables are fairly easy to understand with a bit of thought. Sometimes Jesus even explained them to his disciples and the Gospel allows us to eavesdrop on the conversation. However, this time there is not much of an explanation given and the parable is tricky to understand. I’d be interested to know how the Bible Study group got on.
The story itself is not hard to understand. The steward was a person entrusted with the management of the household goods. He acted as an agent on behalf of his master in transacting business. It seems that he had been caught out not doing his job well or perhaps not doing it honestly. When confronted, he made no effort to defend himself so it’s likely that the accusations were accurate. However, what the steward did do was to work out how to sort out his future. He made an assessment of what he was and wasn’t prepared to accept in future and came up with a plan.
From what we can tell, the steward had a small window of opportunity before he finally lost his job. He used that to talk to his master’s debtors and reduce what they owed the master. He was doing this to make sure he had friends who owed him favours when he was without a job and roof over his head. It all seems a bit dodgy but it makes sense. What doesn’t seem to make sense is the reaction of the master. He commended the steward for what he did. How can it be commendable to reduce what the master would receive from his debtors?
A bit of research around the parable reveals as many theories as there are people writing about it from what I can tell. There is a chance that the steward was not actually depriving the master of anything. The amount he knocked off each bill could have been his commission, which he decided to do without. However, it has been estimated that the amount knocked off each bill was around 500 denarii or 20 months’ wages, which seems rather a lot to be commission. An alternative is that the master had increased the bill because the Law did not allow interest to be charged to fellow Jews. This was a way of getting round the Law when people were slow to pay. The steward might have been bringing the bills back to an honest amount. Alternatively, he was indeed reducing the bill but in that way he was collecting bad debts that might never otherwise have been paid, hence doing his master a favour.
Whatever the financial ramifications of the steward’s action are, Jesus stated that it was his shrewdness which the master admired, not any dishonesty in his dealings. The steward had found a way to use what wealth he had some control over to make friends for himself and secure his future. He had taken an honest look at his life and his future prospects and taken action to do something about the issue.
The disciples were urged by Jesus to use their resources generously. That way they would make friends of those they helped and would prove themselves to be wise stewards of the resources given to them. Earthly resources are nothing compared to spiritual benefits and eternal life, of course, but Jesus suggested that the way the disciples handled relatively unimportant resources would be an indication of how they would handle heavenly riches.
Money has the ability to dazzle people. It’s all too easy to fall in love with having money. It gives freedom to buy goods to enjoy, to travel, to have the power to change our circumstances. It can give a sense of control. Of course, money is not going to be relevant forever. When we come to the end of our lives, money will not matter one bit. What will matter is how we have lived our lives, as friends of God or ignoring God and his ways. That will include whether we have used our money and any other resources we have unselfishly and generously.
Like the steward in the parable, we need to take a long hard look at our possible future life and decide to act in a way that will ensure we prosper. As Jesus said, it’s not possible to serve two masters. Instead it’s necessary to choose which one to serve and then do so wholeheartedly. In the Old Testament, God makes plain that he is a jealous God, not willing to share his place in our lives with anything or anyone else. He hasn’t changed. He still asks for our total devotion to him.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor