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Through Jesus' death and resurrection, he was preparing a future for us. With this parable, Jesus was telling us we need prepare for our future, also.
Jesus said to His disciples: "A rich man had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.'
"The steward said within himself, 'What shall I do? My master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.'
"So he called every one of his master's debtors and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' So he said to him, 'Take your bill and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, 'How much do you owe?' He said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'
"So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home."
Luke 16:1-9 NKJV, condensed
Not Your Typical Sermon
Making loans and charging interest in Bible times was called usury. It was a dishonorable profession, not only because the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, but also because the Law of Moses forbade any Jew to collect interest from a fellow Jew. The rich man in this parable ignored that law. He was a moneylender and he had a steward to manage the dirty work.
A bad report about the steward's wastefulness suggests he may have included some unnecessary luxuries on his expense account, or added his wife's name to the payroll. We don't know what trick he was up to, but whatever the offense, his extravagance had gone beyond the limits of trust. The boss fired him, told him to clean out his desk and turn in the books.
Making loans, as we know today, can be a dishonest and corrupting business. The temptation to overcharge and add fees in times of distress and need is still with us. And the fact that Jesus used these two shady but colorful figures to tell a parable strikes us as very odd. Especially so because of the surprise ending wherein we are told to take a lesson from the man who just lost his job.
This flashy character had little time to secure his future. He thought of himself as unsuited for manual labor and he certainly didn't want to beg, go around to food banks, or live off charity. What would he do? Then it hit him. He will safeguard his future by winning some friends.
So he called in the debtors one by one and reduced their debt. It might have been his own commission that he erased from the ledger sheet. Or maybe he had originally exaggerated the value of the loan which meant there was leeway to make some downward adjustments to the numbers.
The debtors were of course overjoyed. But what surprised the steward was the praise of his former boss who commended his foresight in squeezing himself out of a potentially disastrous financial situation. In a business that creates more enemies than friends, the fired steward had done well to endear the goodwill of the community.
This is a challenging parable to interpret. It's not at all like many of his other stories wherein we see ourselves in relation to God. Although this one makes us cringe at the excesses of these two devious businessmen, I believe Jesus enjoyed relating this story. Both characters were unscrupulous; one trying to take advantage of the other just as he did when dealing with their customers. Yet he ended up being admired for his cleverness. He had out maneuvered the old fox and feathered his nest in advance of the threatening storm.
What exactly does Jesus want us to learn from all of this one-upmanship? What is the lesson from this dishonest steward who worked with such gusto at everything he did. When the die was cast, he gambled on the possibility he could improve his own lot in life by bettering the lives of other people. He didn't hide what money he had. He refused the temptation to bury it or stash it away. Instead he skillfully used available resources to make friends who would remember his favor and hopefully reward him with kindness in the future.
We know when Jesus spoke of the future he wasn't talking about next year or the one after that. Jesus used insightful illustrations to teach spiritual truths. When he said these opportunistic businessmen were more shrewd and forward-looking than his followers were, he was telling us to wake up and remember our final destination in not on this earth. And just as this clever steward acted to secure his future, how much more do we need to secure our future!
Some day the old tyrant, death, will give each one of us the axe. We will be obliged to clean out the desk and turn in the books. How will we survive if we didn't have the foresight to ensure there's something to show for our days spent on earth? Jesus is telling us--now is the time to prepare for the future. And one way to work ourselves out of a deficit is by using our financial resources to make friends who will provide us with eternal dividends. Make sure when you arrive at heaven's gate there will be people waiting for you who will vouch for your kindness and generosity. Investing in the lives of the poor and needy is like storing jewels in heaven. When you knock on that door, they will happily greet you and welcome you inside.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Who in particular are you eager to see when you get to heaven?
The commandment regarding money lending is in Ex. 22:25 and Deut. 23:19-20. Did you know these precepts were in the Bible? Should the subject of loans and interest be influenced by faith and religion? Why or why not? What is at the heart of the prohibition against charging interest? Do, or should, these laws say anything to us today?
The steward was not charged with dishonesty. The whole business was corrupt. But he was charged with wastefulness. Why would wastefulness be a crime in a dishonest business? What's wrong with having an extravagant manager dealing with people coming in for a loan? Does this steward remind you of anyone you know? If so, who?
Contrast a life governed by greed with a life guided by the light of God's spirit? Under what circumstances would you consider loaning someone money without charging interest?
Jesus implied that most people have not given serious thought to preparing for life eternal. Is he right? If so, why would this be true?When Jesus told this parable he was on the road to Jerusalem where he had told his disciples he was going to die. So we shouldn't be surprised to hear him talking about death and life on the other side. What have you done to prepare for your own death?
Another point Jesus may have been making is that people in general (sons of this world) work so hard to be successful in this life, but do his believers (sons of light) work just as hard on eternal matters! The steward in this story labored with passion and drive. He was resourceful, clever and on top of things. What are the characteristics which describe your spiritual life?
We reap what we sow; and it pays to have friends for future contingencies-- If a successful shop owner can figure this out and be motivated to make a profit, why don't Christians have a similar motivation to produce returns that have eternal value?What resources do you have available which you could invest wisely while still on earth in hopes of reaping a profit in heaven? Who are the "friends" who just might be waiting to welcome you into heaven?