Wealth and Trust

This coming Sunday marks our journey in Ordinary Time, the 25th Sunday in Year C. You can read a complete commentary on the Sunday Gospel here.

1 Then he also said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. 2 He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ 3 The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ 7 Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ Continue reading

Serving: lessons

dishonest-steward13 No 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.

The teaching portion of uses parallel opposites – trustworthy/dishonest, dishonest wealth/true wealth, small/great, what belongs to another/what belongs to you. Verse 13 forms a conclusion to the parable formed by an: Continue reading

Serving: commendable?

dishonest-steward8 And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.  “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 The 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. 11 If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? 12 If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?

What is exactly is commendable? Brian Stoffregen has surveyed the scholarly works and offers several models of interpretation for this notoriously difficult parable: Continue reading

Serving: shrewdness

dishonest-steward1 Then he also said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. 2 He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ 3 The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ 7 Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ 8 And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.   Continue reading

Serving: context

dishonest-steward1 Then he also said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. 2 He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ 3 The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’  5 He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ 7 Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ 8 And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.   Continue reading

Prodigal, dishonest, and desperately clutching

In Jesus’ time, large agricultural operations such as the one described in our gospel parable were rarely run by the owner or the family, such things were left to the steward to oversee. The steward had the full faith and backing of the owner to operate the business. The steward would sell the oil and wheat production for cash, trade, or  in exchange for promissory notes. The bartering that preceded the execution of the promissory note was classic commodity bargaining:  I will give you so many measure of oil now, and at this future date you will repay with a higher measure of oil.  There were two thing buried in the difference between the higher amount and the original amount: profit for the owner and commission for the steward. That was the way things worked. Continue reading

The Dishonest Steward – a conundrum

Miniature ofrom Folio 8r of the Syriac Bible o...

Jesus returns to the theme of use of wealth; the16th chapter begins and ends with parables. The story of the dishonest steward has been a problem for interpreters, hence its reputation as one of the most difficult parables to interpret. The root problem is the commendation (v.8) of the steward who is so plainly dishonest.

Stewards in Scripture – The figure of the steward has some significance in Christian thinking regarding one’s relationship with God. In the OT, a steward  could be a chief slave/servant put in charge of a master’s household or property (Gen 43:16, 19; 44:1, 4; Is 22:15). Joseph was a steward in the house of the Pharaoh (Gen 39:4-5).  The earth is the Lord’s house (Ps 24) and Moses is his steward (Num 12:7; Heb 3:1-6).  In Jesus’ parables, stewards are expected to invest their talents and when fruitful are given even greater responsibilities (Lk 19:12-27).

Episcopoi are called stewards (Titus 1:5-9) and are expected to possess holy qualities as they manage the household of God. The apostle Paul also saw himself as a steward (1 Cor. 4:1-2) who would have to give an account of his stewardship (1 Cor. 4:3-4; cf. 2 Tim. 4:7-8) as the Apostle to the Gentiles (Eph. 3:2; Gal. 2:7-8; Rom. 1:5-6; 13-15). There is also a sense in which every Christian is a steward entrusted with a divine gift (1 Pet. 4:10).

These are just some of the images of stewards that part of the Christian imagination regarding the understanding of stewards.

The Dishonest Steward – context

This week, I thought I might try something different, breaking up the longer posts on Scripture into smaller portions throughout the week.  As a friend of mine says, “No experiment is ever a complete failure, it can always be used as an example of what not to do.”

 

The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

 

Luke 16:1-13

 

1 Then he also said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. 2 He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ 3 The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ 7 Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ 8 And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.  “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 The 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. 11 If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? 12 If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? 13 No 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.

 

Context

 

Swirling in the milieu of our readings are themes of riches, reversals, and hospitality. Continue reading