The small things

The gospel for today is one of those that is well-known and a bit confusing. It is the story of the “Dishonest Steward” (Luke 16:1-13; although today’s proclamation only goes to v.8).  It resides in the same chapter of Luke with the story of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31). In between are a few verses about other matters. Both of the two main stories begin with reference to a “rich man.” There is a lot going on. If you would like to read a more detailed commentary, it can be found here.

One way to look at our reading (plus the extra verses) is to divide it into four sayings:

  • the shrewd manager (16:1-8a)
  • worldly wisdom (16:8b-9)
  • trust in trivial matters (16:10-12)
  • serving two masters (16:13-14)

That along can be food for thought. But what are we to make of the “dishonest steward?” Over the years, lot of scholarly work seems to focus on one of about seven different perspectives – there are others. Some of these recurring ideas of how to think about this passage are:

  1. The point of the parable is not the servant’s dishonesty, but his wise decision-making in the time of crisis.
  2. The servant is a man of the world, who works and thinks with diligence to protect his interest.
  3. The parable may be an irony
  4. There are suggestions that the steward was acting within his legal rights in reducing the debts as he did.
  5. The parable can be about the right and wrong use of money.
  6. The parable might center on the word for “squander” (diaskorpizo). The same word is used concerning the “prodigal son” (15:13)
  7. The parable is about securing our future.

A longer, detailed commentary is needed to unpack all those thoughts. But I will leave you with Craddock’s (Luke, Interpretation Commentaries) concludes his comments with:

The life of a disciple is one of faithful attention to the frequent and familiar tasks of each day, however small and insignificant they may seem. The one faithful in today’s nickels and dimes is the one to be trusted with the big account, but it is easy to be indifferent toward small obligations while quite sincerely believing oneself fully trustworthy in major matters. The realism of these sayings is simply that life consists of a series of seemingly small opportunities. Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with the queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. More likely the week will present no more than chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday school class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed the neighbor’s cat. [pp. 191-192]

The steward should have been attentive to the small things. Later in Luke 16, the Rich Man surely should have paid more attention to the “small things” like Lazarus. Keep in mind the big picture and work the small things.

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