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Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Praiseworthy Steward

The Dishonest Praiseworthy Steward 

A Reflection on Luke 16:1-8a 

By: Larry T 

I have always been bewildered by The Parable of the Dishonest Steward. On the surface this story is loaded with contradiction and mixed messages. A rich man found out that his trusted steward had been squandering his property, so he decided to summarily fire the rascal. He called the scoundrel in, let him know that he was getting the boot, and demanded a final accounting of his property. The alarmed steward called in his master’s debtors and instructed them to revise their statements reducing the amount of debt owed to his master – an underhanded trick which would seemingly cause even more loss of property. And the rich man praised him for it? What?? 

Jesus was, and is the unparalleled master of first telling a story, then making a point. But what was His point? Getting to the moral of this story required some research. Since this parable doesn’t appear in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John there isn’t much written about it in the way of interpretation. 

But there is a footnote in the Catholic Study Bible that is helpful. It states: Verses 8b-13 include several originally independent sayings of Jesus gathered here by Luke to form the concluding application of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. So the original story started on verse 1 and ended with verse 8a. Sure enough, verses 8b through 13 have a similar theme, but lack interconnectivity.  

8b“For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
9I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10The 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.
11If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?
12If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?
13No 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 God and mammon.”

Original wording can sometimes shed more light on a subject, so I decided to look for an earlier Greek to English translation. The following account is from the Interlinear bible. 

1 And he also said to his disciples, A certain man was rich, and he had a steward, and this one was accused to him as wasting his goods. 2 And calling him, he said to him, What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward. 3 And the steward said within himself, What shall I do, for my lord is taking away the stewardship from me? I am not able to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I will do, that when I am removed from the stewardship, they will receive me into their houses. 5 And calling to him each one of the debtors of his lord, he said to the first, How much do you owe my lord? 6 And he said, a hundred baths of oil. And he said to him, Take your statements, and sitting, quickly write fifty. 7 Then he said to another, And you, how much do you owe? And he said a hundred cors of wheat. And he said to him, Take your statement and write eighty. 8a And the lord praised the unrighteous steward, because he acted prudently. – Luke 16:1-8a Interlinear Bible 

Ah! In verse 1 the steward was accused of wasting the rich man’s goods, not necessarily dishonesty. And in verse 8a, the steward is unrighteous. What’s the definition of unrighteous? In most instances these words are used either in the Old Testament senses noticed above or with a transformation through some specifically Christian idea. Thus “righteous” means “innocent.” (Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J.) So, the steward was guilty as charged; he had squandered the rich man’s goods.  

But was the steward dishonest? Maybe. Getting to the point of this parable requires some understanding of Palestinian customs of the time. Rich people customarily employed managers (agents or stewards) to oversee their property, and to act on their behalf. These agents were paid a commission on business transactions. The steward was not guilty of dishonest dealings with the rich man’s customers; he simply instructed the debtors to remove his commission from the amount owed to his master. The steward hoped this act would ingratiate him with the debtors so that they would treat him with kindness after his stewardship was terminated. The rich man saw wisdom in this act and praised the steward for it. 

Going one step further I found that Saint Asterius of Amasea, an early Church Father, preached a sermon on this parable. The following is an excerpt from his homily. 

Now if we carefully compare what the dying man experiences, and what the man who is cast out of his stewardship endures, we shall find that the end of each one of us is like that of a steward. For the dying man turns over his control of affairs to others, just as the steward does his keys; the latter on being cast out of an estate, the former on being cast out of the world. Deeply grieved, the steward retires from his own labors----from the estate rich in vineyards, gardens, houses. What then do you think the dying man experiences? Does he not bewail his possessions? Does he not piteously survey his house as, against his will, he is torn from it, and forced in spite of his attachments, to go far from his treasures and storehouses? And when he comes to the appointed place, when he hears the words, "Render the account of your stewardship, show how you have obeyed the commandments, how you have treated your fellow servants, whether properly and kindly or, on the contrary, grievously and tyrannically, smiting, punishing, and withholding the alms that mercy dictates," then if he shall be able to render the master gracious, by showing that he has been a faithful servant, it shall be well with him. But if he cannot thus render him gracious there will remain for him not simply beating with rods, or the dark prison, and iron fetters, but fire unquenchable and eternal darkness, never illumined by a ray of light, and gnashing of teeth as the Gospel has plainly taught us.

But what can we say concerning the remission of debts which the unjust steward contrived, that he might through his fellow servants secure relief for himself from the hardships of his downfall? For it is not easy to convert this into allegory consonant with Scripture, but after long reflection something like this occurred to me: All of us who busy ourselves about the rest to which we are destined, by giving what is another's, work to our own advantage; now by what is another's I mean what belongs to the Lord. For nothing is our own, but all things belong to him. When, therefore, any one anticipating his end and his removal to the next world, lightens the burden of his sins by good deeds, either by canceling the obligations of debtors, or by supplying the poor with abundance, by giving what belongs to the Lord, he gains many friends, who will attest his goodness before the Judge, and secure him by their testimony a place of happiness. Now they are called witnesses, who have secured for their benefactors favor from the Judge, not because they inform him of anything, as though he were ignorant, or did not know, but in the sense that what has been done for them relieves those who have helped them from the punishment of their sins. – Saint Asterius of Amasea 

What is the point of this parable? Maybe Jesus was telling us that the rich man in the story is the Father; all earthly property is rightly His; but He has no use for it. He makes us temporary managers of some of it. At the appointed time, He is going to ask us for an accounting of what He entrusted to us and how we made use of it. Now there is a sobering thought! When that time comes will I be able to hold my head high and give the accounting of how I used His property to further His Kingdom, or will I be drowning in fear?


1 comment:

  1. Wow Larry, you broke this open for me! That this steward had renounced his commission on the debts owed to the master is such a wonderful place to stop and ponder. Do I trust in God enough to use all that He has given me, not for my own gain, but to further His Kingdom? Am I aware of areas in my life where I am squandering His riches? Where do I need to renounce a "reward" that I take for myself, yet, in taking it, hinders the furthering of His Kingdom? Much to pray about! Thanks so much!


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