Summary: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 23, 2001 Luke 16: 1-13 Heavenly Father thank you for Jesus teaching that it is in our own best self-interest to be “interested” in the welfare of others. Amen. Title: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 23, 2001

Luke 16: 1-13

Heavenly Father thank you for Jesus teaching that it is in our own best self-interest to be “interested” in the welfare of others. Amen.

Title: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Jesus relates a parable about a prudent manager-steward who gave up his personal profit to successfully pass an audit of his business dealings. Jesus applies this lesson to his disciples.

This Parable of the Prudent Steward is an “example story.” Jesus says, in effect, “Let this story be a lesson to you. You do the same in your Christian alternative or otherworldly life as this steward did in his business, this worldly life. The story verses one to eight, presumes some knowledge of the business world of Jesus’ day and it leaves some unanswered questions. As a result, no less than four interpretations, further developments of its lesson, are attached to it in verses eight to thirteen. Few gospel passages have given rise to so many different interpretations as this one.

We can discern two themes intertwined in this story. There is the “use your wealth wisely” strand. Giving away or giving up one’s money for charity and justice sake is seen as a way to secure “friends” in heaven. Then there is the “be clever in a crisis” theme.” It is to be applied to the crisis of one’s imminent death and wise action in the light of it. Much of the disagreement among commentators can be explained by their choosing one strand over the other as the sole basis for interpretation. Actually, the point is quite simple and consistent with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere. Simply put, the disciples are to use their wealth, money, resources, energy, and talents, in this present life with an eye on the future life.

In verse one, “Then Jesus said to the disciples,” After his three parables about the joy of finding what was lost, Jesus gives an example of a man who “found” himself, came to his senses regarding his dishonesty, and found a way, by forgoing his personal profit, out of an almost certain disaster by using both his money and intelligence wisely. This is directly addressed to the disciples of Jesus, but verses fourteen to thirty-one, indicate that it was meant for the Pharisees to hear as well.

“There was a rich man who had a manager,” Large estates, then and now, are frequently managed by an executive acting in the name of a landlord, who himself is frequently an absentee. In Palestine this would be a freeman with virtually full power to enter into contracts, sell goods, manage personnel, etc. much like a modern day CEO. The owner could call an audit at will. In this case, there must have been more than enough evidence of extortion or incompetence for the owner to call an audit for he seems to have made up his mind even before the audit as to the outcome.

In verse three, 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? Apparently, the steward knew the outcome as well. Considering his options he found only one palatable. Too out-of-shape and, perhaps, lazy to dig ditches and too proud to beg, he wisely lit upon a strategy which would at least assure him “friends” among those whom he formerly extorted.

In verse five, “So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one. We are told only two instances of what the steward did. He might have managed a farm where the tenants paid rent in kind, but more likely this was a business where merchants received goods on credit and gave promissory notes in their own handwriting to the steward-manager. Now, Jewish law prohibited charging interest to a fellow-Jew. To get around this, debts were translated into commodities like wheat and oil. Thus, the business could have dealt in anything, not necessarily wheat and oil, but the books were kept in those terms. Enter the concept of “creative bookkeeping!

In verse six, “He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’” The Greek identifies this liquid measure as a batos, a “bath” being about eight to nine of our gallons. The total value would be about a thousand denarii, one denarius was a common worker’s days’ wage. Halving that amount would be about five hundred denarii off the original bill. This represents the interest the manager was charging. Interest at fifty percent was not uncommon in the ancient world. Jesus has left out whether the owner would get the interest or the manager was pocketing it for himself. The story makes more sense if the latter is the case. We can only assume the bill would be paid quickly before “late charges” mounted up.

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