Summary: The struggle with today’s passage is that on one hand Jesus is telling us the story of a ‘dishonest’ manager, and on the other hand, he wants us to learn from him. So today we will unfold the hidden treasure of wisdom from this parable and look at what he
Please read the scripture first: Luke 16:1-13
Herman and Henrietta were touring their brand-new house, a house that Henrietta had paid for with her money, a fact of which she often reminded Herman. In each room of the house, she said to her husband, “Herman, if it were not for my money, we wouldn’t be here.” Herman didn’t say a word.
That afternoon a truck delivered to the house a load of furniture, furniture that Henrietta paid for with her money. After the furniture was in place, the couple toured the house again. As they observed each room, beautifully appointed and magnificently decorated, Henrietta reminded her husband, “Herman, if it were not for my money, this furniture would not be here.” Again, Herman was silent.
Late in the afternoon a truck came with a special piece of furniture which was to be the focal point of the den, a combination stereo-television-computer all wrapped into one gorgeous piece of furniture which Henrietta paid for with her money. When it was in place, Henrietta again addressed her husband, “If it were not for my money, that piece of furniture would not be here.” Finally, Herman spoke, “Honey, I don’t want to make you feel bad, but if it were not for your money, I wouldn’t be here!” (Harbour, Rising Above the Crowd, 7)
The word of God that we are meditating on is from Luke 16:1-13. This is one of the most difficult parables to interpret, and most commentators admit that they have had a hard time with this passage. I belief the “linier” thinking tendency in our dominant culture makes difficult to understand the “relational” thoughts of the East.
The struggle with today’s passage is that on one hand Jesus is telling us the story of a ‘dishonest’ manager, and on the other hand, he wants us to learn from him. So today we will unfold the hidden treasure of wisdom from this parable and look at what he is really trying to teach us.
As you have heard the story from the scripture, (please read Luke 16:1-13 if you haven’t yet done so), it is about a dishonest steward that was about to be fired by his boss because he has squandered the boss’s property, and he tried to find a way to save his future.
In the first century Middle East, there were clear class distinctions between rich and poor. The rich would try to avoid direct communication with the poor even when they had business to transact. They usually hire a manger to manage all the business transactions on behalf of them, so that they wouldn’t have to deal with the poor face to face. Therefore, just like the tax collectors that worked for the Roman government that were not favored by the general public, these property managers were not favored by the farmers either.
A description of he context will help us make sense of this parable. The poor would borrow money from the rich, usually paying a high interest, to buy seeds, tools, and things they need to tend the crops. After harvest, they return the loan with what their crops. But, because of the high interest rates, they often end up having to borrow again for another year of farming, and of course, they also need money for their daily living before the next harvest.
If in a certain year the harvest was poor and they couldn’t produce enough to pay back the loan, the lender would seize their lands because it was usually in the contract when they borrow the money. Eventually, many of those farmers lost their land to the money lenders. Then they had to borrow both money and the land to make a living. So the farmers were farming on a land that they used to own, with a large amount of debts. All these transaction of lending the money and collecting the interest; and leasing the land and collecting the rent is handled by a manager. And the landlord must be living in a big city, like Jerusalem, and having a party everyday.
It is in this context that Jesus told the story of a manager that was found squandering the owner’s property. The landlord brought him in and asked him to go back to the village and bring back his books because he is no longer the manager anymore. He went home saying to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” So he tried to come up with an idea to save his future from becoming a homeless.
The solution he came up is recorded in v.5, “... summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’”