1“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.
The 16th chapter of Luke’s Gospel begins and ends with stories that are unique to Luke. The first is today’s story of the unrighteous steward and the last is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. And in each one the Christian disciple’s attitude toward possessions (and God) is the important theme. The whole chapter should be seen as one long discourse on what one chooses to serve, what one chooses to trust. A warning and an encouragement. First the warning.
And it starts with a doozy of a set-up. A dishonest manager caught with his hand in the cookie jar. A crook called in to the boss’ office to give account before clearing out his desk. Dishonest with his master’s money, at least he is honest enough with himself to know that he is in real trouble. Fired and out of work he will have no place to stay, and very little hope of future employment. He’s not strong enough for menial labour and he is too proud to beg, so what is left for the man facing life in the depth of the serious hole he has dug?
4I have decided what to do, [he says] so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’
The observant among us might ask the question: Why is every debtor he calls in so ready to re-write the books with him? The cynical among us might next ask: Was each and every one of them as wicked as the first? Perhaps a couple. But for the most part I think not. They took the actions at face value. Why? Because they had come to expect such generous and merciful acts from the very man the steward was supposedly representing. What the steward was proposing was simply consistent with the Lord’s Character. And the trust pays off for everyone involved. The Lord does not deny His gracious nature … even when put up to it by a less than scrupulous servant.
And this becomes our word of encouragement – and it too is a doozy. If one considers the story from the Lord’s perspective, the the focus of the parable is not the dishonesty of the steward but the underlying mercy of the Lord. The whole plan of the steward hinges upon the assumption that the lord is an honourable man who can be counted on for mercy. The purpose of the parable is not to uphold the dishonesty of the servant, but to reveal the depths of the lord’s mercy.
8The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
Every time we encounter verse 8 of our parable, we are shocked to read that “the lord commended the unjust steward”. It may reduce our shock if we determine that the speaker of the compliment is the lord of the parable rather than the Lord who spoke the parable. But it should shock us none-the-less! Let the words of the Gospel really sink in and remind you of the shocking character of your own salvation. What the lord of the parable did to the unjust steward, our Lord will do to us on Judgment Day. God will commend the unjust steward – that is, you and me! – and receive us into His everlasting habitations.
Let’s face it. We are unjust stewards, even the so-called best of us. We have all been caught padding our own accounts at the Lord’s expense. We have all sought to buy God’s or each other’s favour. We have each one of us been more concerned with living in the here and now, than preparing for the everlasting life to come. Not one of us is above bending the rules either earth’s or heaven’s to get what we want. We deserve to be called in to give account and face the consequences of our every lazy and selfish thought, word, and deed. We have proved ourselves to be not merely dishonest and unjust, but also unfaithful.
10“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
It is a deep hole we have dug for ourselves. But that, of course, is looking at it only from our perspective. That’s how we see it. Thanks to Jesus, God sees it differently. And the difference is shocking. God commends the unjust. It is that kind of unjust steward that our Lord will commend on judgment Day with the words, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). From His perspective we are no longer sinners but saints, no longer unjust stewards but just. That’s because Christ has justified us. Through His saving life, death, and resurrection, He has given us His perfect righteousness. He has paid our sin-debt in full. And that’s all God will see as He says to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:23). He cannot deny His nature. And He will not withhold His mercy. Our God has always been in the business of commending the unjust. Thanks be to Christ Jesus our forgiving master!