Dishonest Steward’s Meaning

Oceans Eleven

See how easy the Bible is to understand? I mean, the Parable of the Dishonest Steward practically explains itself. Who needs a preacher? The meaning just leaps right off the page. Perfectly obvious.

ace-of-heartsOk. Not really.

I’ve preached on this one a few times, since we read the same gospel readings every _____ years.

Right. Three. Six years ago, I made three points on the Dishonest Steward.

1. The parable teaches us to clarify our ultimate goal. What am I aiming at?

2. Sometimes Christ invites sinners to repent. Other times, He gives instruction to faithful disciples, who have long since repented. This parable teaches such disciples. The parable does not condone dishonesty. It assumes that we already know that dishonesty is a sin.

3. The steward in the parable acted in a resourceful, clever, and decisive manner. He confronted his situation with sober realism and did the best he could to deal with it. He hustled, in other words. And he hustled solely to avoid having to beg or dig ditches. We, on the other hand, have heaven for our goal. We want to get to heaven and help others get to heaven.

Do we hustle to reach the goal? Do we confront reality with sober realism and try to deal with it, using all the clever resourcefulness we have? Do we use our talents, energy, savvy, and skills to extend the Kingdom of Christ?

Without falling into dishonesty like the steward did–without cheating anyone, like he did–let’s hustle like he did. Let’s act prudently and practically. Let’s slither our way to heaven like wise serpents,while inside we shine like innocent white doves.

That’s basically what I said six years ago about this parable. Pretty inspiring interpretation, don’t you think? But did I really get to the heart of it?

I think the Lord actually explained the parable perfectly when He added:

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Throughout His life and ministry, Christ certainly preached the message, “God is love.” No doubt about it. That God is love was Christ’s message.

But He also undoubtedly preached another message that went hand-in-hand with the “God is love” thing. We close ourselves off to the Scriptures if we do not open our ears to this other dimension of Christ’s teaching. God is love. True. But guess what else? Life is short.

Calgon bath beadsWhen Christ communicates the message “God is love,” He does not also say, “Therefore, relax. Therefore, take a Calgon bath.” God is love. Therefore, chill out on the couch, and loll around all the time. Because God made this world plush for us.

No. To the contrary. Christ’s message, taken as a whole, could perhaps be distilled like this: “When you die–which could be today–you will go to meet the God of love. Therefore, get ready to meet Him. By loving. Love like today were your last day on earth.”

So: Yes, the Parable of the Dishonest Steward commends resourcefulness and practicality. Don’t be a woolgathering, slack-jawed, passive disciple. Be a disciple who is more clever than the cleverest Las-Vegas hustler. As clever as the cleverest Fortune-500 CEO is–be that clever about souls.

But, even more than this, the parable highlights this fact: Everything we have in our hands now, everything about which we even can be clever now–it will all pass away. Everything we see or touch will pass away. Life on earth will end. And only our acts of genuine love will endure. Only the pure love we share with God and our neighbor will endure. Everything else is just so much straw.

samsung m400 flip phoneIt’s not a sin to have a million dollars. The sin would be to think that a million dollars will do me any good after I die–which I will soon do. It’s not a sin to hold power and influence in this world. The sin would be to think that I have any power over death and judgment. Death and judgment will come when they will come, whether I like it or not.

Let’s use a Las-Vegas metaphor. God holds the cards. All the cards are His. He deals me a hand to play in this short life. And He tells me, “Son, play your hand to win friends for eternal life. Play your hand so that when the game is over, which it will be very soon, the other players will say of you, ‘That’s a kind person. That’s a God-fearing person. That’s a person who listens before he speaks, smiles before he frowns, and gives with no thought of taking.’”

Win friends for eternal life with whatever you have to work with now. Because soon you will die. And then it won’t matter what kind of phone you own. Or whether or not your brother owes you $5,000, and never paid you back. Or whether you were right or wrong when you insisted that the house be painted that particular color, even though your wife wanted it to be a different color.

None of that will matter. Only kindness, honesty, generosity, piety, humility, justice, chastity, and faithfulness will matter. The godly things. They last.

The steward thought of his future, and it put the present into perspective. The Lord asks us to do the same. Life is short. Pray hard. Love. Let go of everything else.

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3 thoughts on “Dishonest Steward’s Meaning

  1. Father Mark,

    So, it’s Ocean’s 11 instruction time? I never saw the movie; but I know that it wasn’t the first ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054135/ ); and it won’t be the last. After all, we have no end of instruction in the ways of this world. When the Bible says there’s “Nothing is new under the Sun.”, it means the evils just keep repeating too. So, at least Danny learned to cut down on the number of casinos to hit.

    All of which is to say, that it might be understandable that the God of Love would say, if you’re going to mess up, you might as well mess up with those who will ensure your eternal damnation. At least that’s their bag; and you’ll garner favor with them in this life — and join them in the next.

    This is not to say that your “pretty inspiring interpretation” isn’t valuable. It’s just that the literal meaning might be godly irony (He does do it doesn’t he (?), witness Job38:21, for that matter, all of this section of Job).

    Since, as you note, He’s speaking to the disciples; He wants them to understand in the fullest manner. Hence the “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” and, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” He comes at it from various directions, so that they (and we) cannot fail to perceive his message.

    It’s love; but it’s the love of a parent telling a child not to run out into the street.

    in God we trust.

    LIH,

    joe

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