If we all named our favorite parable, I’d bet that the parable of the Dishonest Steward is not on anyone’s list. It’s a difficult parable.
What is going on in this parable? Joel B. Green in his commentary on Luke reminds us that we ought not to read this parable allegorically; that is trying to make a character in the parable stand for God or Jesus. This parable uses common place everyday life (in the first century CE) to draw a startling conclusion.
Green also points out that at the time Jesus lived, friendship and money and social status were closely related. “Using money to make friends, then, refers simply to the social reality: The exchange of money created, maintained, or solidified various forms of friendship.” *
Summing up this parable and the rest of chapter 16, Green says, “Faithfulness to God is demonstrated in the extension of hospitality to the poor. Such hospitality occasions the redistribution of wealth to those incapable of reciprocation, underscores the importance of the creation of friendship across social boundaries, and secures an eternal home.”#
But still, the actions of the steward are hard to accept.
Luke Timothy Johnson has this to say, “…[T]he parable turns on the steward’s shrewd response to the urgency of his situation and invites hearers to understand that they are likewise in the midst of a crisis that demands an urgent decision if disaster is to be avoided. Faced with loss of his position, the dishonest steward acted decisively to provide for his future. One who hears the gospel knows that just such a decisive act is required of those who will stake their all on the coming kingdom of God.” +
Doug Lee at the Ekklesia Project has this to say, “His [Jesus] desire in Luke 16 is for the rich/Pharisees to exhibit the same shrewdness as the manager, who finds scandalous grace by using temporal wealth to build eternal friendship.”
I found all these commentators helpful, quiet helpful in fact. I understand what they are saying, yet I remain uncomfortable with this parable. I have trouble getting past, what I see as the dishonesty of the steward. My discomfort with this parable is in itself uncomfortable.This parable puts me where I don’t want to be -the Pharasees- more concerned with socially correct behavior and the ownership of things than I should be. And, even worse, more concerned about the rich person’s money than grace, hospitality, and friendship. Not a view of myself I like to acknowledge.
There is one thing I appreciate about this parable. This parable has resisted becoming a warm, fuzzy, make me feel good about myself parable – the fate of so many other parables. I suspect that my shocked hearing of this parable is similar to the reaction of Jesus’ listeners to most of what he said. It may be one of the few instances, after 2000 years of Christianity, where we are uncomfortably confronted with the revolutionary and disturbing call of Jesus.
I’d like to know, what do you think?
*Joel B. Green in The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,1997) , 594
# Green, 588
+Luke Timothy Johnson in “The Gospel of Luke, Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol IX.Leander Keck ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995) 310.