Lk 16: 1-13

Prayer
Father you wait for us until we are open to you. We wait for your Word to make us receptive. Attune us to your voice, to your silence, speak and bring your Son to us – Jesus – the Word of your peace.

Before going to today’s gospel we need to see it in its context within the gospel.  At the beginning of chapter 15 we read, “1The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, 2but the Pharisees and Scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Immediately after our reading we hear, “14The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him.” Our parable is addressed to these groups of people. Perhaps you can imagine yourself belonging to one of these groups. What impact does Jesus’ story have on you?

This parable is acknowledged as one of the most difficult to understand. I suggest that for the moment you read only the Parable of “The Dishonest Steward” (16: 1- 8a)

I am sure you are a little confused. It certainly looks like this parable is encouraging dishonesty!

Try reading it a second time. Use your imagination. Concentrate on the qualities of the “Rich Man”.

What did you discover? Here’s a check list. Compare this with what you found.

The rich man was generous to a fault. He warned the servant, but took no action against him, in fact it is quite possible he was re-instated.  Perhaps we should revise our title for this parable.  Let’s call it, “The Generous Employer”. 1

Can you think of a parable with a similar theme to this one? Go to your Bible and look at Chapter 15.  Surprised!  The second half of Chapter 15 contains the parable of the Prodigal Son, however, we now call it “The Merciful Father”.

* * * * * *

Time to read the parable, of “The Generous Employer” once more. Again I invite you to use your imagination while reading, looking at what it tells us about the Steward.

He seems to be a likeable person. Most certainly not very efficient and wasteful. He knew how to enjoy life and was not keen on hard work; “to dig I am not able”. He had his own pride and was certainly not going to turn to begging. We are also told that he liked people and enjoyed the company of good friends. 2

“But he was dishonest!” you might shout out. Perhaps a better understanding of how stewards functioned will give us a clearer understanding of his actions. Stewards worked on a commission basis, so when he reduced the debts he was also lowering his income.  Rents were not fixed. They went up when the harvest was good and down in years of poor harvest. Obviously the rich man was known for his generosity so the debtors would not have questioned the lowering of their rent. The steward also seems to have banked on his employer’s generosity. Wasteful, he certainly was, but he took nothing for himself.

Perhaps he was not so wasteful. Jews were forbidden to take interest on loans to fellow Jews. (Lev 25: 36) Our Steward may well have reduced the debts by the amount of interest due.  In this light he is acting both morally and legally. Everyone wins. The master is presented as gracious, generous and obedient to the law. The debtors have their bill reduced.  The Steward has secured the lasting gratitude and friendship of the tenants. 3

There are two lessons we can draw from the parable. The steward realized that there are more important things than money. For him, friendship was high on his list of values.  Think of all that you value more than money. The Rich Man has much to tell us about sharing.

The second part of our reading lists the lessons that we can draw from the parable. The final lesson is: “You cannot be the slave of both of God and money.” Another translation is; “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

“Mammon,” literally means “that in which you put our trust.” This includes wealth and riches, but also titles, position, privileges and honours; anything that takes our attention away from God, our true source of life. Money should be used to benefit people not to manipulate them, and since it is given as a trust, it should be used in the service of discipleship.

The key lesson we learn today is that people enter heaven because of the graciousness of God, not because of the credits they have secured. God welcomes tax collectors and sinners into His Kingdom and Pharisees as well.

  1. De Verteuil, M  Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels, p 208
  2. De Verteuil, M  Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels, p 208
  3. Derrett J D M  Law in the New Testament, p48-77