Who Is the Focus?

Luke 16:1-13
1He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

I suspect that the parable we examine today is one of those readings where people lob a complaint against the Scriptures that says “it’s too difficult to understand. That doesn’t make any sense.” On a first read through, one is struck by the fact that the “God-figure” in the story isn’t behaving the way we expect Him to. But this is solved rather simply. We are so egocentric that we come at the story from the wrong direction; that being starting with ourselves at the center rather than God. When the Scriptures are Christ-centered, we start in the right place. This is certainly true with the parable of the shrewd steward.

Let’s examine the details of the story for a moment. Beginning in verse 1 we find that word for squandered that we discussed with the story immediately preceding this one – the prodigal son. If you will recall, the “prodigal” son was the one who squandered his Father’s riches. The steward in today’s reading has done the same thing. He has squandered that with which he is entrusted.

Upon first blush, this story seems to condone the cheating of one’s masters. That interpretation comes from observing the story from the viewpoint of ourselves rather than the Master.

If one considers the parable from the lord’s perspective, then the focus of the parable is not on the dishonesty of the steward, but on the mercy of the lord. This assumes that the lord is an honorable man, which seems to be the pattern of the households in Jesus’ parables. The rich lord’s mercy to the steward who squandered the lord’s estate (16:1; διασκορπίζων) is parallel to the father’s mercy to the prodigal who squandered the father’s inheritance (15:13; διεσκόρπισεν). The purpose of the parable, then, is to reveal the lord’s mercy.
Just, A. A., Jr. (1997). Luke 9:51–24:53 (p. 614). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

If the focus of the text is upon Christ, we find that what we are reading is a story of God’s amazing grace, just as was the story of the prodigal son. The steward is counting upon that mercy and so too can we. Finally, Jesus expounds upon the struggle with serving money rather than God. Both the steward and the prodigal fell into great problems when they got this reversed, just as we too will experience should we choose possessions over God. When we come away from this parable, we must focus first and foremost on the mercy of the Lord; a mercy that can always be counted on no matter what happens to us or really even what foolish things we choose to do.