“And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?” – Luke 16:11-12 NLT
This is a difficult passage, and if we’re not careful, we could draw all kinds of faulty conclusions Jesus never intended when He spoke these words. As always, it helps if we consider the context. The passage right before this has Jesus addressing the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law because of their complaining about His association with sinners. Jesus used three parables or stories to make a very powerful point about their mistaken view that they were NOT sinners. These men viewed themselves as righteous because of their positions and because of their heritage as descendants of Abraham. They did not consider themselves “lost” and so, therefore, they had no need to be “found” by Jesus. In the stories Jesus told, these men represent the 99 sheep who get left in the wilderness by their owner so he can go search for the ONE lost sheep. They are the nine coins that get ignored while the woman searches every nook and cranny of her house to find the ONE coin that was truly lost. And they are the older brother in the story who thought he deserved the party and the presents more than his younger brother, because he had worked like a slave and done everything his father had told him to do. But he ended up on the outside of the party looking in – just as the Pharisees would.
Luke continues his account by sharing a story that Jesus told to His disciples. This one involved a rich man who had a dishonest steward or manager who worked for him. He managed his household and his personal finances. It was a position of power, authority and great responsibility. But it seems this man had been wasting the rich man’s money. The term in the original language paints the picture that he had been throwing it into the wind, squandering it needlessly and wastefully. When the rich man found out, he fired him. But before his termination took place, the dishonest steward came up with an ingenious, if not self-serving, plan. He was not only dishonest, he was lazy. He didn’t want to have to do any kind of manual labor to survive, because he had gotten used to the easy life of a manager. He also was admittedly too proud to beg. So he devised a plan to win over all those who owed money to his boss. He called them in one at a time and asked them what they owed. He then renegotiated their debt, lowering it to a more manageable level – much to their delight and gratitude. This man used his boss’s resources to secure his future. He knew that when he lost his job these people would be so grateful for what he had done, that they would take care of him in his need. He may have been dishonest, but he was shrewd. Even his former boss admired what he had done.
Now, Jesus is NOT encouraging His followers to do as this man did. We are not to emulate this man’s dishonest actions. But we should take careful note of what he did. I can’t help but think that Jesus has the Jewish religious leaders in mind. This is a story about them. They were the dishonest steward who had been trusted by his employer with all that he had. These men had been entrusted by God to care for the Word of God and the people of God. But they had been wasteful and careless with God’s possessions. And like the steward in the story, their Master was calling them to account. Which is what Jesus had been doing since He started His earthly ministry. He had been blasting the Pharisees and other religious leaders for their hypocrisy, lack of spiritual leadership, poor care for the sheep of God, and stubborn refusal to recognize Him as the Son of God. Jesus seems to be telling the religious leaders that they must recognize the precarious nature of their position and their future, and consider what it is they must do. The man in the story took steps to secure his future. He did so by caring about others. This part is hard to see at first. It appears at first blush that he is simply being self-serving, but if you look closer, he goes to the very people who had owed his master all along and begins to collect the debts they owed. This is probably one of the ways in which he had been slack and wasteful. He was not collecting what was owed. He was letting his master’s creditors get away without paying what they owed. And it may have been that they were unable to pay. So he renegotiates their debts, accomplishing several things at once. He makes their debt more manageable. He collects the past-due accounts owed to his master. And he secures the gratitude of these individuals. It is as if Jesus is encouraging the religious leaders to look at what the man in the story did and wake up to the reality that they are going to have to answer to God for their actions here on earth. Jesus says, “And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?” (Luke 16:11 NLT). Right in the middle of this little discourse by Jesus, Luke places the statement, “The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money heard all this and scoffed at him” (Luke 16:14 NLT). This is there for a reason. It is still all about the Pharisees. They loved their money and their positions. They put more value on those things than on doing the will of God, their ultimate Master. And they would one day have to answer to God. Jesus condemns them for their outward displays of righteousness. He warns them that God knows their hearts and detests the very things they love.
The real point seems to be that the man in the story recognized what he had done, and shrewdly did what he had to do to secure his future. Jesus is encouraging these men to do the same. They can’t serve two masters. They can’t have it both ways. They can’t love money more than God. They can’t serve the things of this world and God at the same time. They needed to get their eyes off of themselves and start caring about the needs of others. They needed to care about what the Master cared about. The man in the story wasn’t trying to get money. He was simply trying to secure his future. Jesus is encouraging the religious leaders to do the same. I really don’t think this is a story about money or stewardship. It is about eternal life.
Father, this is a hard one. Jesus doesn’t take us aside and explain it as He has done in so many other cases. But I pray that we can learn from the man in the story and the lives of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. We all must answer to You some day as our Master. We have been given a stewardship of all that we have, because it all ultimately belongs to You. We need to manage it well, not for our own benefit, but for Your glory. It isn’t about us. It is always about You. It isn’t about our petty little kingdoms, but about Your eternal one. Never let us lose sight of that fact. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men