7 June 2012Luke 16:1-9
"There was a rich man who has a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property." (v. 1)
What a strange passage we have before us today. Surely Jesus
cannot be saying that it is right to be dishonest in our dealings
with the things we have been given into our charge?
The key seems to lie in the word "squandering", which is used in the accusation against the steward. It is the same word which is used for the actions of the younger son (Luke 15:13) in the parable of the prodigal son, and does not mean dishonestly stealing from his master as we might expect, but misusing the estate income in a way disapproved of by his master. According to A E Harvey (formerly a lecturer in theology at Oxford University and sub-dean of Westminster) the steward was probably trying to gain income by lending out large sums from his master's fortune (at a high rate of interest), whilst neglecting the proper management of the estate.
If this is the case, it would seem that the steward had found a way of getting round the usury laws by lending in this way. But instead of charging a reasonable amount of interest which would go back into the estate, he had upped the amount to cream off some for himself. If we work out the maths and see the difference in the payment demanded after the steward had reduced the figure, we can conclude that what had been previously charged was extortion in a big way. And it is his imminent dismissal which brings the steward to his senses and finds him a way out of his difficultly. His job is lost, but by putting things right financially he makes friends with those he had been falsely charging and sees a way to begin again, freed from his guilt and dishonesty.
To find a parallel today is not easy but when you are next on public transport where there are posters offering you a loan when you are in need of money, look at the very small print at the bottom of the page. "Just pick up the phone" the advert might say, but the small print tells you that the interest is 125 per cent or more. Someone is being an unjust steward somewhere.
Does the parable imply that we have to be more worldly in our thinking when it comes to the work God gives us to do? Why? Or, for that matter, how?
How can the church practically help people to see beyond the instant gratification a pay-day loan can give?
Do we teach enough about the use of money in our churches? What might we do to redress this?