Always the master storyteller, Jesus makes liberal use of parables throughout his teachings, and in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is particularly prolific in telling these stories – stories of life in God’s Kingdom using everyday imagery to convey meaning. Some parables are harder to understand than others, and the one in Luke 16, often called the “Parable of the Unjust Steward” is one of the most difficult to decode, because it seems odd to us that Jesus would lift up the dishonest and self-serving work of the steward as something to be emulated.
We often look at parables and try to substitute characters in the story from the perspective of the relationship between God and God’s people. Using this key, we may assume God to be the master, and the steward could be any one of us. With that in mind, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that dishonest, self-serving behavior is commended by God. But what meaning would the parable take on if it were Jesus who was the “dishonest” steward? How does that help you understand the parable?
One of the ways to look at a parable is to find those who are doing acts of grace and forgiveness. Surprisingly, the one doing the forgiving in this story is the same person whose behavior we find objectionable, even scandalous. And that just may be the point of the story. In a world marked by quid-pro-quo relationships, the idea of forgiveness is simply scandalous. It doesn’t make sense, but if you are on the receiving end of such forgiveness, a new world of possibilities emerges, and new sense of freedom, and a new sense of appreciation for the one who bestowed grace and forgiveness on you.
Indeed, if we see Jesus as the “unjust steward” in this parable, we see a pattern of grace leading up to our honoring of Jesus and welcoming into our hearts our homes and our lives, just what the steward was trying to achieve by forgiving debts. Jesus has forgiven all our debts to God, and as a result places a claim on our lives, but a claim which allows us to live freely and fully.
So next time you read a story in the bible you don’t understand at first, look for the pattern of grace, the scandalous grace of Jesus.
To see the full text of my sermon on the Parable of the "Dishonest Manager", CLICK HERE
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.