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Reform Magazine | September 23, 2019

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Chapter & verse: Luke 16:1-13

Chapter & verse: Luke 16:1-13

Rosalind Selby grapples with a puzzling parable

This parable can only be found in Luke’s Gospel, and it’s a parable many of us might feel puzzled mightily by. Unlike, say, the parable of the good Samaritan, where it’s rather clearer what it means to ‘go and do likewise’, I’m not sure I feel comfortable having this dishonest steward held up as an example for my life.

Here’s a man who hasn’t been a good steward of the resources his master has entrusted to him and, as the saying goes, the pigeons are coming home to roost. He’s been asked to give an account of his mis-accounting and he knows full well that as a consequence he’ll be out of a job. What’s he going to do? How will he get another job? How will he support himself without work? So, he sets about courting favour with people who owe his master money or goods, shaving a bit off their debt here, and a bit off the list of goods to be supplied there, in the hope that as he scratches their backs, when he needs it, they’ll scratch his. What on earth is Jesus doing seeming to hold out as an example to us a self-regarding, book-fiddling fellow? In the end, the steward’s master commends him, Jesus tells us to make friends like this, and I’m scratching my head.

As Christians, we seek to walk the way of Jesus, repenting of what we get wrong and striving to live more like him. As we come into membership or eldership, we make promises to live in Gospel ways. At ordination, a minister promises to lead a ‘holy life’. What is it that we are to learn from this parable that does not run counter to these calls upon our lives?

One suggestion is that the steward is actually deducting interest by reducing debts owed to his boss, and therefore preventing his master being usurious (see the laws in Deuteronomy 15 and 23:19). The steward’s actions to date might not have led us to expect him to take this step, but it’s possible that as well as seeking his own interest for the future, he’s had something of a change of heart…

Rosalind Selby is Principal of Northern College, Manchester

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This is an extract from an article that was published in the September 2019 edition of Reform

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