As I reflect upon my meager efforts to discharge faithfully my sacred duties, I recall that I have tackled a good number of the Lord Jesus’ parables.
One of these days, I will present you with a handy compendium of my many tedious commentaries on the little stories of our Lord. In the meantime, here goes a ‘compare & contrast’ to whet the appetite…
The parable of the dishonest steward presents us with a great challenge. What does it mean?
Maybe it will help to compare and contrast this parable with the parable of the unforgiving steward.
Both parables present the same set of circumstances: a failed bureaucrat gets called to account by his master. Both stewards find themselves in desperate straits, because their boss has discovered their enormous incompetence.
But the two stewards react in diametrically opposed ways. The unforgiving steward initially begs his master’s mercy—and receives it—only to lose it by being stingy and unmerciful himself.
The dishonest steward, however, compounds his dishonesty by secretly forgiving his master’s debtors. Then he finds himself praised by his master for doing so.
One element of the stories that leaps out is this: The unforgiving steward utterly failed to understand his master’s thinking, whereas the dishonest steward understood his master even better than he knew.
The first steward promised to repay his own enormous personal debt to his master. The master knew that would never happen, so he wrote off the debt for good. But the servant failed to grasp that his master was being merciful with him. The steward marched out into the street believing his own nonsense about coming up with lots of money that he didn’t have and never would have.
The dishonest steward, on the other hand, was actually remarkably honest and practical with himself. He knew his limits and immediately took action to turn a desperate situation into a livable outcome. He knew that his very survival depended on his cultivating friends, so he used the means he had at hand to win some people over.
Can we doubt that his master smiled at this behavior precisely because this is the way in which he himself became rich? When he saw his steward seizing his opportunity, he thought to himself, ‘This dude really isn’t as much of a numbskull as I thought he was.’
Another common element of the two parables is this: In both cases, the masters possess enough wherewithal to write off massive losses indulgently. They both lose a lot of money because their stewards are incompetent, but they do not give the lost money a second thought. Instead, they focus on the persons before them.
So, the moral: God smiles on us when we humbly and practically seek the help we need to get our sinful butts to heaven.