The Parable of the Dishonest Steward, told in the first 13 verses of Luke’s 16th chapter, is the most confounding for study. Jesus speaks to his disciples about a steward, entrusted with the lands of an absentee landlord.
A rumor of mismanagement reaches the master — and the steward’s livelihood is threatened. He panics — for he’ll lose his job if he doesn’t collect.
So he turns to underhandedness. As each tenant comes to him, he slices the bill, attempting to secure his own future. In the best case, the master will be satisfied. Worst case? The tenants now owe the steward loyalty — at least enough to put a roof over his head if needed.
He’s making “friends” through generosity. Magnanimous — with somebody else’s stuff.
It makes me think of some cheap TVs, cellphones, jewelry, drugs — you name it — bargain mammon that “fell” off the back of a pick-up.
And then the confusion — for Jesus calls the steward “shrewd.” That sure doesn’t sound like the condemnation of sleaziness we’d expect. This story is just a mess. So much is wrong. And while there are possibilities, we can’t resolve the whole thing.
I find the truth of the story in its concluding verses: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.”
The foundational element of community is trust. From the master to the steward to each of us — all the time — Is there trust? While we cannot take away the meaning of the whole story, we can take away a message of trustworthiness.
We are to be trusted never to use another for our own means. We are entrusted with all of life and all God gives us for the glory of God and to show God’s face — not to flounder trying to buy in our own security. Never worked. Never will.
The question is — with Jesus by my side, all the time — am I making decisions He would make?
We live in a broken world. We are not yet fully in the Kingdom of God. We live in a world where clearly there are shortages. Like the steward, some days give us hard choices. In our world, there are no easy answers.
So often questions present that have no apparent solution. No matter what, somebody’s going to hurt. Yet in hope, we live into the Kingdom of God that is abundance.
The field of ethics — character — studies choices, and how and why we make them. There are so many different ways.
Some choices are made strictly following the “rules.” Some are utilitarian — for the greatest good or the least harm.
In life as followers of Jesus, our choices ultimately are to be made toward a goal — that is the goal of living as Jesus. Faithful, loving, trusting and trustworthy. Making every each decision toward life in the Kingdom of God.
Remember this recent news story? A Boston homeless man found and returned a backpack with over $40,000 and a passport. The gentleman who found the money expected nothing. When interviewed, he indicated he’d never have kept a cent. In his experience, he had God looking after him.
The news accounts of this went viral. Why? I think the enormous interest and outpouring of support for this man indicates our hunger for people who do the right thing — no matter how much they need personally.
It tells us that in a world where communications lean heavily on the sensation that builds ratings, we are starving for glimpses of trustworthiness and hopefulness. It tells us that at our core, we yearn to live in a world that is good and fair and honest. We crave a world of integrity — not a world of me-first.
That begins with each one of us, living as stewards of God in all we do. That means deciding every word and deed and response through His eyes.
For God is faithful. God redeems. God sustains. And when all we are given here is gone, God alone remains — love alone remains. And isn’t that all we’d ever hoped for?
The Rev. JANICE JONES is rector of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Killeen.