(Continued from yesterday)
• Do indirectly what they are not permitted to do directly. Lenders hire an agent to do their dirty work, with authority to determine the “interest”. If they are caught, the master disavow any knowledge and shifts the responsibility to the agent. This is no different from governments nowadays denying any knowledge of their agents’ covert operations if they are discovered.
• Redefining terms so that “technically” they do not break the Law. To do that loans were given out at a discount, similar to how Treasury bills are transacted today. For example, a bill with a face value of $100 can be issued to a purchaser for $90.90. Upon maturity the issuer pays the buyer the nominal $100. The difference of $9.10 is the imputed interest of 10% on $90.90. Neither the principal nor the interest is explicitly spelled out, just how much has to be repaid upon maturity. Only the lender and borrower knew what the real interest was. Since interest was not mentioned in any document, they reasoned that they had not broken any law. This is similar to people redefining when does life begin, marriage and gender to justify abortion, homosexuality, and gender confusion. They are self-deceived and deceiving others. Both ploys were used in this parable.
Third, the interest rates used. The manager reduced a debt of 100 measures of oil to 50, but 100 measures of wheat to 80. Why? Oil, likely olive oil, was a valuable commodity. The yield and the quality vary from year to year depending on the weather, and risk is high. Unscrupulous borrowers can also mix “extra virgin” olive oil with ordinary olive oil, or even add water which sits at the bottom of the cistern and not easily discovered. To “protect” themselves loan sharks charged a usurious rate of 100%, so 50 principal + 50 interest =100. Wheat is a more common staple. Although borrowers can cheat by putting sand at the bottom of the bushels, it’s harder to conceal, so the rate was commonly 25%, such that 80 principal + 20 interest (25%) = 100. What the manager did, then, was to reduce the respective bills to their principal only, what the debtors actually received from the rich man, waiving the embedded interest altogether, which the master was not supposed to charge in the first place according to the Law. No wonder the debtors were happy and the master could not charge him with fraud since he complied with the Law!
Seen in the light of its historical-cultural context, the unrighteous steward found a way to gain favor with the debtors, while at the same time making right any wrongs his master might have done by charging usurious interest (unless if he is totally unaware of his manager’s dealings). I believe that’s why he was praised for his shrewdness. The Lord is indeed teaching us to use the wealth entrusted to us wisely to further eternal ends, but understood this way I believe it resolves misunderstandings some might have toward this parable. Hope this helps.