Summary: Why was the dishonest servant commended for his act of dishonesty? What is this parable trying to teach?
Parable of the unjust steward
Why was the dishonest servant commended for his act of dishonesty? Verse 8 says that it was because he was shrewd. In other words, Jesus was not commending the dishonest servant because he was dishonest but for the shrewdness of his action. We have earlier seen that a parable is often used to illustrate one or two main truth. Not every detail of a parable is to be used to form a teaching. Likewise, Jesus may be using this story as an example of shrewdness without agreeing to his act of dishonesty.
Another interpretation is that the act of the servant was not in fact dishonest. Notice the Bible did not tell us that the act was dishonest. It simply tells us that the servant was dishonest. It could be that he was dishonest because he squandered the master=s wealth when the latter was not around. Many arrived at the conclusion that the act was dishonest after we read that the servant changed the amount the debtors owed the master. What if he had not done anything wrong by doing this? In those days, the amount that a debtor owed a creditor would be written as a lump sum on a piece of paper and this amount includes both the principal and interest. Therefore, the servant may be writing off only the interest component of the debt thereby not eating into the master=s principal. Is he allowed to do that? In many cases probably yes because he is the manager and the master may have left to him how much interest to charge. Or he may have charged extra interest for himself in view of his dishonesty and is now eliminating this part of the extra interest.
Yet a third interpretation concerns who the lord of this parable is. If we say that the lord of the parable is not Jesus but simply a rich man in the story, then Jesus is not really commending the servant for the dishonest act. This is also probable because Luke is the only gospel writer that uses contrasts to describe some truths. For example, parable of the friend at midnight (Luke 11), parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18). In both these parables, Jesus is not saying that God is like the friend or the unjust judge. Yet He uses the illustration to teach a truth. Therefore, in the parable of the friend at midnight and unjust steward, the two persons extended help just to get rid of a nuisance. But the Lord is not like them; He extends help because He cares. If those two people would extend help out of persistence, how much more the Lord who loves you. Likewise this may also be a parable of contrast. In other words, if the unbelievers could be so shrewd, how much more Christians in their use of money for eternal gains.
What is the parable trying to teach?
1. Christians have to be shrewd in their use of God-given possessions.
Luke 16:8¬9 (NIV) "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.