(Luke 16:1-13) The Parable of the Dishonest Steward has always been a bit of an enigma to me. Jesus tells the story of a servant who loses his job because he has cheated his master. The steward is in a difficult position, but he shrewdly decides to make the best of it. “I have decided what to do,” he says, “so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship” (Lk 16:4). So he contacts everyone who owes his master money and tells them that if they pay up right away, they will only have to pay part of what they owe. Fraudulent? Yes! But to my surprise, the master praises the steward for “his prudence!”
It is not dishonesty that our Lord is praising; He is not holding the servant up as a model for us to imitate. What Jesus is praising is the servant’s foresight and determination. The worldly-wise steward is planning for the future, and Christians need to have the same kind of determination about the things that are most important in life – things like salvation, the Kingdom of God, and heaven. What must we do in order to inherit eternal life? We must fear God, keep His Commandments, and make Him first in our lives.1 We are to love our neighbours, to care for the poor, and to be merciful to one another. Our actions show what is most important to us: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Lk 12:34).
But no matter how hard we try, we are weak; the things of the world often distract us. At times we focus instead on how much money we can make, what kind of homes and cars we can buy, or what kind of a vacation we will take this year. How much effort do we really put into making certain that we will get to heaven? Are we determined? Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Lk 16:13). We can’t allow money to become our god, or allow our lives to become little more than a pursuit of material goods and personal comforts. We cannot serve both God and mammon.2
In reality, we are all dishonest stewards. God has showered us with enormous blessings – time, money, and resources – and He has asked us to put these gifts to good use. But we squander them; we use them for our own purposes. We forget to be grateful, focusing on the gifts instead of the Giver. In the face of all of our weaknesses and shortcomings, how will we ever be able to secure our eternal reward?
Happily, Jesus is an ‘unjust steward’. Unlike the dishonest steward in the parable, He doesn’t even ask us to pay back the smallest part of what we owe. Jesus does not mete out the punishment that we deserve; His love for us trumps the demands of His justice. We owe our entire life to God, yet there is no possible way that we can repay Him? Don’t worry! Jesus died for us; the debt has been paid. We have been wasteful with the time and resources that God has given us? It’s okay; we are forgiven. We have failed to love others and been lacking in mercy? God doesn’t hold it against us; He loves us nonetheless. We need only turn to Jesus, to repent of our ways, and to then renew our determination to do everything that we can – with the help of God’s grace – to be good stewards, to do everything that we can to secure our heavenly reward.
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 Cf. Luke 18:18-22.
2 “Mammon” is the personification of riches as evil or as a god.