Spiritual Shrewdness and the Parable of the Unjust Steward
The point of this parable has always been a bit of a puzzle. The characters are a rich master, a lazy -- albeit shrewd -- servant, and some delinquent debtors. None are really noteworthy for virtue, and all come out winners in their own way. The hero seems to be the biggest chiseller of them all. This parable has no prodigal transformed by the power of grace as in the previous passage. Nor does it hail the happy hereafter of the humble contrasted with ageless agonies of avarice, as in the subsequent story. Was this little sermon secretly slipped in by some unscrupulous scribe?
1. He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’3 “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 And he said, ‘A hundred measures[a] of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures[b] of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. 9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail,[c] they may receive you into an everlasting home. 10 He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. 11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? 13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.
Many mightier minds than mine have made a go at this message. John Calvin calls it “hard”…need I say more? So I would not presume to stand where others have stumbled. Nevertheless, I’m compelled to contribute just a couple coins of thought to the collection of comments upon this text, and let the reader decide for himself to either deposit or discard them.
I think a significant clue is contained in the conclusion: “Now, the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard these things, and they derided Him (Luke 16:14).” The religious hypocrites didn’t miss the point…even though we might have. Jesus was jabbing. For all their pretended piety…they were mere money hungry misers at heart. All 3 of the main figures would have been envied and admired by these covetous clerics.
They would have marveled at the master in their hearts. He was rich and important. He had power to hire and fire at will. He had servants to command and debtors to control.
They would have sympathized with the servant. He pretended to be one thing, though he was not, and escaped being caught a good while. And when finally confronted he skillfully and shrewdly delivered himself from doom. His daily bread he gained by deceitful deeds.
They would even have admired those behind in account. They were opportunists who saw the chance to diminish their debt and cashed in their chips at a much reduced rate.
And what label does our Lord apply to this entire greedy group? To the colossal consternation of the ecclesiastical elite he calls them all “sons of this world (vs. 8).” Jesus is saying, as it were, that those who think and act like this have no part in the kingdom of heaven. “You cannot serve God and mammon (vs. 13).”
So what does Jesus mean when he remarks that “the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light”? Simply this I suspect: Unbelievers are often far more effective at getting what matters most to them than believers are at getting what matter most of all.
Oh my soul…where is your shrewdness in spiritual pursuits? Do you know how to plan for spiritual progress? Have you tactics to avoid temptation? Have you a smart strategy for sanctification?
In verses 9-13 of the parable Jesus gives, I believe, at least 3 spiritual strategies for believers so that we may be more effective in obtaining what matters most. They are, what we might call, strategies for spiritual shrewdness.
1) Give it away. “Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” Oh my soul, is there not someone nearby who could use something I have? Jesus means more than mere money by “unrighteous mammon.” Do I have some unscheduled time that someone else could use, a moment to spend upon some other soul, a good word to give away, a talent that could touch a heart. Give it away. What are you hoarding it for? A gift bestowed blesses both the giver and getter so that none can be a loser in this game. And ah the joy to be received by those thus blessed when your brief pilgrimage upon this planet has passed.
2) Give it your all. Use all the means that you have, and make every effort to improve the Lord’s investment of resources in you. “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful in much (vs. 10).” So the strategy here for spiritual shrewdness is to be fully faithful in managing the measure allotted to you. Do nothing by halves. Show your heavenly Master that no gift from Him has been taken for granted, but that every effort has been expended to develop His deposit for the greatest good. Oh my soul…do I give it my all? Do I pour out my heart in prayer over every potential opportunity to be a blessing to my brethren? The question is not how much money I have…but how well I have used it. Look at your opportunities…and ask if I am giving to each one 100%. Promotions in God’s kingdom are based not upon successfulness but upon faithfulness.
3) Give glory to God alone. Serve God exclusively with all that you are. “No one can serve two masters.” Consider carefully, o my soul, what master’s are competing for Christ’s place on your calendar. Make sure to measure every moment by this “master” rule. Who are you serving right now? What Master shall have your mind in the morning, and all my moments on the morrow? If I am serving my lust…I cannot be serving my Lord. Oh for a singular heart in the service of my Savior!