Someone emailed and asked:
Can you explain the parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16? Thanks.
Hi, let’s first look at the passage:
“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. 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. 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. 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. 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? 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.”
It seems clear that Christ is speaking in part, tongue in cheek (even as he did in the parable of the stewards and talents in which after being accused of being austere and reaping where he had not sown (theft at worst, or taking unfair advantage at best), that the talent should have been put out to the money lenders to collect usury and add another charge to the false accusations against master). I believe the point is that a wicked person admires someone who is shrewd (he even learns from such devious ingenuity), even if he loses money in the deal... a sort of “professional courtesy” and admiration is like “honorable mention”—he fires the steward for being a thief, but inwardly smiles and does not fully prosecute him because he admires his creativity (which also shows the nature of this rich man, who was more like the unjust judge). Even as we are to “covet” the greater gifts and “provoke” one another to good works (as I believe I explain in my S.T.E. Commentary on John 18-21), words that are usually only used with a negative connotation, so also, it seems, Christ (speaking in parable) implied that we ought to be as concerned about our soul and pleasing God, as a wicked steward is about saving his own skin. Elsewhere we are commanded to be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good. This does not mean (as most spurious, liberal, modernist false interpretations might claim), that we are to let the godless rape and murder us and we are just supposed to smile and say, “thank you”. Good in God’s Eyes is not good in the world’s eyes. The good is not bestowed upon the wicked in return for their evil; the good is obedience to God in doing what is right even if there is more worldly advantage to doing what is wrong because “everyone else is doing it”.
Christ spoke tongue in cheek, about making friends with unrighteous mammon—to cause the hearer to stop and truly analyze and dissect the discourse, knowing that the manifest or surface meaning cannot be the true meaning, so it should cause the hearer to ruminate, meditate, and truly seek the latent or deeper, hidden meaning. The only “friends” who would have “everlasting habitations” (or tabernacles) would be that friend who sticketh closer than a brother, the Ancient of days, the Eternal Godhead. “It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the Judgment.” God will call the accounting books to be reconciled, therefore, the most important issue is having our hearts right with God and not being in sin-debt due to lascivious and deceitful living, fooling our own selves into thinking that we are in the faith when we are not: because every tree is known by its fruit.
We are to be wise as serpents harmless as doves, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation” (Philippians 2:15). Similarly, David said, Psalm 2:12: “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His Wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.”
If some crooks (like those in bank robbing "heist" movies) applied themselves as diligently, and invested their time and resources into doing good as doing evil, they could be just as successful--even more so. But evil people want to do evil; Scripture says the wicked go astray from the womb and that the wicked are like the troubled sea and cannot rest unless they be devising mischief and preying on the innocent. To the wicked, honest gain is an embarrassment. Therefore, if a person is truly of God, he will apply himself to pleasing God honestly, in the manner God commanded, with equal gusto and desperation as the unjust steward thought to rob his master further, in order to save his own skin through further dishonesty; while the wealthy lord himself was dishonest and just had to smile and admire the wicked steward's cleverness. Likewise, Christ told us that God cares for us so much more than an unjust judge cared for the woman before him, whom he just wanted to be free of so he granted her request; therefore, the comparison here of God to the wicked wealthy lord and to unrighteous wealth is only a comparison of different lords (one righteous, one wicked) and likewise, we are to be as pure-hearted to God as wicked stewards are deceitful to unjust lords.
But more importantly,
Luke 16 is a continuation of Luke 15, which begins:
“1Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him. 2And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, ‘This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them’. 3And He spake this parable unto them, saying...”
Then, in chapter 16 after Christ’s Parable of the Unjust Steward, Scripture records
“14And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided Him.”
Christ then begins to rebuke and expose them,
“15And He said unto them, ‘Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the Sight of God’.”
Christ then exposes their wicked hearts even more with the real-life story (not merely a “parable”*) of Lazarus and the rich man, to the end of the chapter.
[* See my detailed analysis of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in my, What the Devil? — What the Hell?]
So, we see, the Parable of the Unjust Steward was not a lesson to the people of how they should be, but an exposure of how the Pharisees were and how the people should not be like them. Other times Christ spoke parables against the wicked scribes and Pharisees and Saduccees, and they, perceiving that He was talking about them, even wanted to lay hands on Him and kill Him (Matthew 21:45,46; Luke 20:19,20)—and in such cases, neither were those parables of Christ given to encourage the people to so act; but those parables were meant to expose the wickedness of the tares.
Hope that helps. Robert