Q. How can Jesus use the unrighteous steward in Lk 16 as a model for us to follow? He squandered his master’s resources and reduced the repayment required from debtors. How can he be an example?
A. That’s a good question. Some commentators argue that a parable has one main point and we need not dwell on the peripherals of the story. They suggest that Jesus was teaching His disciples to make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness. He was not commending the steward for his dishonesty, but for his shrewdness. The rest of the story does not matter.
I disagree, based on Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the Sower, His basic parable (Mk 4:13). Each element there – the sower, the seeds, the soils, the birds – means something. I am not suggesting that you spiritualize things to force meaning into each and every little detail in all parables, but usually we misinterpret the parables because we do not do enough homework to understand the culture and customs of those times.
Let’s work through the issues. First, the rich man or master. If he represent God, how can he praise his manager? This puzzled many Christians. My opinion is that the master here plays the same role as the unrighteous judge in Lk 18:1-8, as a contrast rather than a comparison to God. There, if the unrighteous judge is willing to give the widow legal protection because of her continual petition, how much more is God willing to answer the prayers of those who kept coming to Him. Here, if the master praises the manager because he acted shrewdly, how much more will God commend the sons of light if we are more shrewd in using wealth to accomplish eternal purposes.
Second, the matter of interest. Israelites were not allowed to charge interest when they lend to fellow Jews, only to foreigners:
• Ex 22:25 If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.
• Deut 23:19-20 You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countrymen you shall not charge interest, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess.
However, to circumvent this restriction cunning creditors devised two schemes:
(To be continued)