Summary: The parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13) is a parable that has been awkward for some to understand. It is awkward because, it seems, that the unjust steward gets rewarded for his crookedness. It was about grace when we don't deserve it.
WHEN SLICK GOT CAUGHT
Text: Luke 16:1-13
The parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13) is a parable that has been awkward for some to understand. It is awkward because, it seems, that the unjust steward gets rewarded for his crookedness. But, the truth of the matter is that he got “called on the carpet” because he wasted his master’s possessions and got caught. Ol’ Slick got caught. So to amend the situation, he had to use money (Mammon) the way that God intended for it to be used in the first place. God never intended for money to become our master. When money becomes our master, then it becomes idolatrous. It seems that his “earthly treasures” were the master of the unjust steward. That is what the word Mammon means---treasure in the form of “money”, “wealth”, “property”, and/or “profit”. (George A. Buttrick. ed. The Interpreter’s Dictionary Of The Bible. 17th Printing. D. M. Beck. “Mammon”. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987, p. 235). The steward in this parable had a hang up with “Mammon”.
I once read where someone (Halford E. Lucock) made a wise observation about money and its design to be a servant. “Everyone is familiar with the solemn words of the marriage ceremony: “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder”. That of course reaches into many more things than the marriage ceremony. … God has joined together work and happiness. When we try to separate them, we run into great trouble. These words, however are also true in reverse. We can truly say “What God hath put asunder, let no man join together.” A great deal of the evil in the world has come from man’s effort to join together things that God separated. Jesus said: “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” He has put asunder the service of money as an end in itself, and the service of God”. (Halford E. Lucock. Unfinished Business. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1956, p. 137). Money is meant to be a servant, not a master.
The time had now come when the unjust steward--- “Ol’ Slick” got caught. It was time to face the music. The crooked deeds were done. Now it was time for the inevitable---to face the unavoidable consequences---to give an account. He had no defense because he could not justify his actions. Yet, he seized the opportunity of the time before he would be unemployed to prepare for his future by making some friends.
FAILURE VERSUS FAITHFULNESS
The steward had been hired to be trusted with managing his master’s money but he failed. To give you an idea of the kind of trust that he had in his role as a steward it is helpful to define what a steward is and does. A steward is supposed to be a person of integrity who is both a caretaker and a watchman. 1) Consider the following stewards, Adam and Eve. When Adam and Eve failed to take of the Garden the way they were supposed to they were banned from the garden. They were banned because they messed with the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:15 –17, 3:6, 24-25). 2) Consider also when Joseph was a steward to Potiphar (Genesis 41:41-44). Unlike Adam and Eve, Joseph proved to be a good steward because he had had the God-given foresight to save Egypt starvation (Genesis 41:46-49). As a steward, Joseph stuck to his duty and never deviated from it. 3) Someone pointed out (Herbert Lockyer) as it relates to this parable the Pharisees were stewards because they were the interpreters of the Law who failed to do what they were supposed to do with what was entrusted to them. (Herbert Lockyer. All the Parables Of The Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1963, p. 290). Naturally, they were disturbed when Jesus told this parable.
The steward failed because much was expected of him and he had performed his duties way below what was expected of him. The same word for wasting or squandering that was used in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is used in Luke 16:1. Was it possible that he was guilty of being incompetent because he did his job half-heartedly? As someone has noted (S. MacLean Gilmour) “The steward’s conduct was characterized in the beginning by incompetence and in the end by flagrant dishonesty”. (George A. Buttrick. ed. The Interpreter’s Bible. Volume 8. Thirty-sseventh Printing. S. MacLean Gilmour. “Luke: Exegesis”. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988, p. 280). We know that his master notified him of his pending termination. In the general sense we are told that he was wasteful in his duty but we are not told how he was wasteful specifically. It seems that the practice of “unrighteous mammon” was the charge that he was guilty of. We will look at the meaning of “unrighteous mammon”. The unjust steward [Slick] had failed to be faithful with the responsibilities that were given to him. Jesus said in Luke 16:10: "He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (RSV). We can safely conclude that the steward was both unfaithful ---“incompetent in the beginning and dishonest in the end” before he was fired.