19 September 2010

Luke 16:1-13

"And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." (v.8)


None of Jesus' parables are simple stories of right and wrong, however much we try to pin them down. Even so, the parable in today's reading is more puzzling than most.

In the story of the dishonest steward, Jesus seems to praise the self-serving, manipulative and deceitful action of the steward who has been caught out not doing his job. What does it mean, that his master "commended" him? It is confusing to think of Jesus teaching this.

Some say that Jesus' point was that we should be as energetic in finding ways forward for God's kingdom as we are for things like money-making and other matters "of this age". Then the example of the dishonest steward is an ironic one. We are to be as urgent as he was, but in the service of God instead of the service of wealth.

The trouble is that this seems to set up a division where 'mammon' (an older word for wealth) equals bad and God equals good, as if money is inherently dirty. From the other stories in this section of Luke, and elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus' attitude to money seems more complicated than simple rejection.

Later in this same chapter (verses 19-31) Jesus tells a story which condemns a rich man who left Lazarus poor and in need at his gate: after death and no longer protected by his wealth, the rich man begs that Lazarus be allowed to return to warn the rich man's family to do better. In the verse immediately following today's section, the Pharisees (the teachers of the Law) are condemned as "lovers of money" - they treat wealth as evidence of God's favour and make it an idol. It is not money itself that is bad in either of these examples, but its misuse.

The point of the sayings gathered at the end of today's reading is that if we misuse money we will end up as its slave. Like the dishonest steward we can be slaves to wealth, whether we are poor or rich, if we mistake wealth for fullness of life.

To Ponder

Studies have shown that a majority of people said they would prefer to make £30,000 a year in a community where the average is £20,000, than to make £50,000 where the average is £75,000.

What does this tell you about the love of money?

Which situation would you prefer?

What should the Church teach about the use of money?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.