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Parables Bible Study 13: The Unrighteous Steward

Title: Parables Bible Study 13: The Unrighteous Steward

Subject: Pursuing the Kingdom of Heaven

Age: 13+ years

Location: Luke 16:1-9, 10-13 are related

Handout for note taking: Bible Study Worksheet

Begin the bible study with a prayer. Read the passage, and then allow time for quiet reflection. Share the following notes on the parable.

The parable is found in Luke's Gospel immediately after the parable of the Prodigal Son and a few verses before the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. It is the latter parable that is related. We may also look to the dialogue between Jesus and a young lawyer found in Luke 18:18-27, Matthew 19:16-26, and Mark 10:17-27. This story may be helpful to have in the back of our minds as we consider this parable.

The interpretation of this parable has been problematic for both ancient and modern commentators, yet a basic review of the events helps in understanding the message contained. The Rich Man has a steward who stood over and in charge of his commerce. Perhaps the Steward had been unscrupulous and had gotten gain by adding to the honest amount owed to his master. Stewards were not often viewed favorably as a class or profession; they were lumped with publicans and the dishonest handlers of money.

The Rich man resolves to dismiss his steward. The steward knowing that he could not work and being ashamed to beg decides on a sneaky if not clever course of action. Approaching his master's debtors he has them reduce their bills perhaps by the amount he had dishonestly padded them. In other words, the legitimate debt of each debtor was unpaid while the illegitimate portion, the portion the steward used to set up his lavish lifestyle is removed. This clever act receives praise by the master. This is perhaps the hard part to understand, for an unrighteous act is praised in the scriptures. It may help to understand this praise of the master within the proper perspective of one clever business man praising the cleverness of another. Their praise has little to do with the kingdom but everything to do with this world. We also must not use this example to set up some sort of Robin Hood mentality. No, the action of the unjust steward is being praised not its result.

In other words see verse, 8b, "For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light." What the Lord is saying is that those of us who have been called into God's service, who seek the Kingdom, and are attempting to become righteous are not as diligent, shrewd, clever, and conscientious about our high calling and mission. The children of this world plan, scheme, devise, strategize, etc., about how to advance in this world, and we who are attempting to scale the heavens are simple headed and even lazy.

Consider again the actions of the unjust steward. It is out of his concern for his material situation and comfort that this man acts. Such an example is hardly unknown to us today. We are surrounded by the principles of clever worldly dealings. Everywhere those who advance in this world by their schemes and diligence are praised. Likewise the way of life is despised and ridiculed. For example, the religious, the monk, the pious are considered foolish at best. Yet consider again the reward. The one works for that which is temporary and material. The other works for something eternal and immaterial. See Matthew 6:19-21:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

The selfish preoccupation of the unjust steward is praised. The Lord is telling us that we too should seek praise for our scheming to enter the Kingdom. Verse 9 is a key verse: "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves, by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home."

"[The Lord] is teaching us that we must use our wealth, however it is obtained, for the alleviation of those who are in need, for good works.[1]" Matthew 6:24, "No one 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."

1 Timothy 6:10, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." The scripture here does not say having money, whether it be an abundance or a pittance, but rather the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

We are to make friends of this unrighteous mammon. This we do when we serve the needy and poor through our material wealth. In turn we are received by them into our eternal home. There are two ways of looking at this: the poor and needy will speak on our behalf before the throne of God. And, the poor are Christ.

See the parable of the Last Judgment/Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25. Matthew 25:40, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'" The identification of the poor with Christ is made and so our service to them becomes a direct service to Christ. Therefore it is Christ who receives us into the eternal habitations because we have used our unrighteous mammon.
"When you have given your substance for the needs of the poor and spent it all, ‘they may receive you into everlasting habitations, ‘that is, our friends will obtain our salvation, since they are the same poor in whom Christ the Eternal Rewarder will confess that He has Himself received the kindness of our love for our fellowman. The poor themselves do not therefore receive us, but they receive us through Him who is given to eat in them." (St. Gaudentius, Homily on the Unjust Steward)

The last verses, 10-13, are the moral of the story. In verses 10 and 11, we learn that God wants to give us great things, true riches, yet our inability to handle properly and righteously that which is unrighteous, money, the truly insignificant and small things of this life, prevents us from receiving true riches; i.e. spiritual treasures.

In verse 12, we view our possessions like an owner instead of a steward and this mires us into a shortsightedness that keeps us from receiving our true inheritance. We have exchanged the earthly for the heavenly and our focus becomes the things below instead of those above.

Finally in verse 13, we hear again what was said in the Sermon on the Mount, that we can't have hearts that are divided. No, we must find a way to be totally committed to God, focused on serving Him alone. Verses 14 and 15 seem to tell us why the Lord told this parable in the first place.

At this time, read the passages once more and allow time for quiet reflection. If there is time, you may have a discussion about these parables.

End the bible study with a prayer.

[1] Archbishop Dimitry, The Parables, p. 89.

Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas

Click the link to return to the Parables Bible Study page or continue to the next Parables Bible Study session: The Rich Man and Lazarus.