Lectionary Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 16:1-13:


This is a difficult story to understand, and not least because in it there seems to be praise for someone who actions are, to say the least, ethically murky. If, as seems possible, it followed in delivery close upon the heels of the forgiveness parables in Luke 15, then perhaps it is providing a perspective on worldly forgiveness for wrongdoing that has, in its own context, some rationale and plausibility, even if the “forgiveness” of the rich man falls far short of the divine standard suggested in the parable of the prodigal.

But there is more likely something more than that at issue. Here the offender is not a son but a kind of estate manager, and the sin appears less to be a matter of completely profligate abandon (although some of that is suggested) than of bad management, a lazy neglect of duty and responsibility by which the “steward” (oikonomos) had “wasted” the good of his master. Whatever the case, having been a bad steward, when called to give a full “account” (the term is logos, meaning in this context a “rational account”) prior to dismissal from his post, the manager proves to be an unjust as well as ineffective steward. . . .

The story describes a large estate with very substantial tenant debts, and the secretive reductions in debt represent a formidable loss of revenue for the owner. It may be that the amounts represent accrued interest on the outstanding debt (in which case usury of some sort may be a complicating factor). A critical point in the story is the owner’s response to the manner in which he has yet again been cheated, just as the unjust steward is headed out the door. Rather than being furious, as we would expect, he surprisingly commends the man for his “shrewdness,” a better and more precise translation of phronimos than “done wisely.” . . .

Prudential wisdom of this order is not, it seems to me, compelling as the principal lesson to be drawn. Once again, the Lord’s distinction (or comparison) is a key: “For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (16:8 KJV). That is, worldly people use mammon pragmatically in a self-interested way, and given their materialistic preoccupations, that makes a certain prudential sense.

But “the children of light,” who have every reason by virtue of scriptural instruction to know that for them worldly profits are mere dross compared with “laying up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt,” have too often in practice a fundamental confusion of mind and method in their habits of life. One can too easily gain the whole world and lose one’s soul, as Jesus says elsewhere (Matt. 16:26; Mark 8:37).


©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.