The parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16:1-13 may be one of the most difficult parables told by Jesus Christ. I doubt that many Christians have ever heard a sermon preached on this passage. Why? Because it appears that Christ is giving tacit approval for the unjust servant to defraud his master after being given his pink slip. Let’s just jump into the parable and you’ll see what I mean.
The Unjust Steward Gets the Pink Slip
The parable starts out with the unjust steward being fired by his master after being accused of being wasteful with the master’s money.
1And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. 2And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
The steward does not defend himself because he either has no defense or isn’t really given an opportunity to defend himself.
3Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
Given the number of pink slips handed out over the past two years it is easy to relate to his thoughts. It’s a rough time to be out of work – especially if you have no skills for the jobs that are in demand. It’s natural to start to worry in this situation.
The Unjust Steward Decides to Create His Own Parachute
The unjust steward decides that he is going to create his own social welfare safety net as part of his final duties. Be honest, this is tempting – isn’t it?
4I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. 5So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. 7Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
Did he just do what it looks like he did? Did he just give some unauthorized discounts to make some friends that may want to help him out later?
His Lord Commends the Steward AND so Did Christ
Surely his master is not going to look kindly on this matter. You’d think, but he actually commends the steward for it. What is going on here?
8And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. 9And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
Say what? Did I miss something, or did Jesus just tell His disciples to do the same thing? It looks like Jesus is saying it’s okay to use your boss’s money to buy friends.
Jesus Warns Us to Be Faithful With Little
Jesus then appears to take an about face and warns us about being faithful with little.
10He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. 11If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?
Confused? This doesn’t seem to jive very well with what He said above, does it? There has to be some other interpretation.
Let’s Take Another Look
There seems to be three plausible ways to look at what the unjust steward did.
- First, he did what it appears that he did and the master was impressed at how shrewdly the steward provided for himself on the way out. I have a hard time buying this one.
- Second, the steward had overcharged these people and was just setting the records straight for his master as an attempt to gain both his and the other’s good will.
- Third, the amount slashed was the steward’s commission. By giving up his commission now he earned the good will of his master and the others.
What Was the Point of This Parable?
It seems to me that the third explanation is the most plausible as it accounts for both the master’s commendation and for Jesus telling his disciples to follow the steward’s example.
The wisdom comes in the signing over of your worldly possessions now for the hope of the eternal rewards later. It’s a call for us to be generous with our worldly possessions using them to make eternal friendships. Too many Christians miss the smart play here.
13No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
The unjust steward was wise enough to know that giving away what he had was the only real move to make. If he had kept it, he’d have had nothing when it was gone.