Summary: The parable of the dishonest steward points to imagination and how wealth can be used for the goodness of God's kingdom in our midst.
September 22, 2019
Hope Lutheran Church
Good Money after Bad
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Every story has a main character. But sometimes that main character isn’t the person you’d expect. You can’t really call them a hero. They’re more of an “antihero.” An antihero is the main character in a story who doesn’t have the usual good qualities we’d expect. They’re far from perfect people. They have glaring character flaws.
Humphrey Bogart played an antihero in many of his movie roles. Private detective Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon was an antihero. So was Rick in Casablanca. Clint Eastwood played iconic antiheroes. In many of his westerns he played the character known simply as “the man with no name.” Dirty Harry was another antihero. Jack Nicholson played a classic antihero in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The antihero is not the person you’d expect to play the critical role in a story. And you definitely wouldn’t want to trade places with her or him. But this complicated individual accomplishes what needs to be done. The story wouldn’t resolve if not for the antihero.
Today we hear one of the most surprising and perplexing parables ever told by Jesus. We hear this story and we think, “Huh?” The main character in the story is most definitely an antihero. The parable has become known as “The Parable of the Dishonest Steward.”
The story begins with a rich man. He discovers that his manager has not been handling his property to his satisfaction. The rich man isn’t getting enough return on his investment. So he demands an accounting from the manager.
This steward knows he’s going to get the axe. So he goes to each of the people who owes a debt to his boss. He aims to gain their favor. He drastically reduces the amount of their payment to square their accounts. And surprisingly, when the rich man finds out what his steward has done, he pats him on the back for his shrewd actions.
If that’s not surprising enough, Jesus takes it one step further. He says that his followers need to be as adept as this wily character! What on earth is going on?
Jesus mentions unrighteous mammon. There are many layers of unrighteous mammon involved in this quizzical story. At the top of the system is the Roman government. The Roman Empire was built on unrighteous mammon. Rome invaded a foreign area and occupied it. Then they exploited everything they could from that place to support their empire. They made slaves of conquered people and they exacted taxes. The land and its people were seen as inert resources for the benefit of Rome. They didn’t have value in and of themselves.
The next layer of unrighteous mammon is more local. For one reason or another, certain people have become indebted to this rich man. As payment, they owe him a share of the goods they’ve produced. Maybe they’re sharecroppers living on land he owns. Jesus tells us this man is RICH! There’s a reason he’s rich.
The third layer was the steward’s fee. In exchange for acting as the mediator between the rich man and his accounts, he could add on a surcharge. So the debtors’ fees likely cover several things:
• The actual loan or rent they owe
• Hidden fees to the rich man
• A tax to Rome
• And a surcharge to the manager
The manager already knew that these farmers and their welfare meant nothing to the rich man. They were merely a means to more wealth. But now that he’s getting the pink slip, he sees that he doesn’t matter any more than they do. All these years he’s worked for the owner as his middle man. He’s the one who turned the screws to gather the payments. But the rich owner doesn’t think he’s making money fast enough. And now the steward sees the cold, hard truth. He never meant anything to his boss.
So the manager switches sides. The manager wants to curry the favor of the farmers. He approaches the debtors and offers each of them incredible deals. The rich man has to hand it to his manager for his craftiness.
The manager has unhitched himself from a system of exploitation and moved himself to a new economy, one built on human relationships.
I’d like to point out two things from this story and our antihero: How we choose to use money and the power of imagination.
First, how we choose to use money. It’s so very easy to see money and mammon as the end of our pursuits. Rome did it. The rich man did it. The steward did it, too. He viewed it that way until it disappeared before his eyes. It had been a mirage.