Serving: context

dishonest-steward1 Then he also said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. 2 He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ 3 The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’  5 He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ 7 Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ 8 And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.  

“For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. 11 If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? 12 If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? 13 No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Swirling in the milieu of our readings are themes of riches, reversals, and hospitality. Chapter 16 of Luke forms an interesting literary grouping. The chapter begins with a parable (the dishonest steward) and ends with a parable (Lazarus and the rich man). Each parable begins with “There was a rich man…”  Between the two parables is the identification of the audience, “the Pharisees, who loved money…” It’s easy to lose the manner in which Jesus has been warning against the lure of possessions:

  • renouncing the greed of the Pharisees and the challenge to give alms (11:39-41),
  • the rich fool who forfeited his soul for wealth (12:13-21),
  • the prudent servant who was praised (12:42-48),
  • the warnings of chapter 12 on how to prepare for the final accounting,
  • the outcasts called to the great banquet (14:15-42),
  • giving up all one’s possessions to be a disciple of Jesus (14:33),
  • the prodigal son (15:14-32), and
  • now the dishonest steward (16:1-13)

Joel Green (The Gospel of Luke, 587) also sets this chapter within a larger context:

Many have noted how the opening parable of ch. 16 is related to the parable of 15:11-32 [The Prodigal Son], especially in terms of vocabulary and style. Both, for example, begin with a reference to “a certain person” (15:11; 16:1), have central characters who “squander” property (15:13; 16:3) and encounter life-threatening choices (15:15-17; 16:3), narrate the surprising action of the “certain person” mentioned in the opening verse (15:20-24; 16:8), and so on. More consistently overlooked is the interesting parallel that develops between the younger son of 15:13-24 and Lazarus the beggar in 16:21-23. Although the prior autobiography of Lazarus is missing, both come to be portrayed as inhabitants of the cesspool of social status only to have their lots dramatically reversed. The structural similarities between chs. 15 and 16 remind Luke’s audience that the immediate backdrop of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples in ch. 17 is his portrayal of table fellowship as an appropriate means for including such outsiders as toll collectors and sinners in the community of the lost-but-found. In ch. 16, Jesus grounds this message about table fellowship more fundamentally in his overall teaching about possessions: Wealth should be used to welcome another cluster of outsiders, the poor who are incapable of reciprocating with invitations of their own or of helping to advance one’s own status.

Already in Luke 14 the Pharisees and scribes had been advised to reconsider their cultural understanding of hospitality and replace it with one attuned to the Reign of God. In Luke 15 Jesus teaches about hospitality in God’s kingdom where table fellowship with the marginal is the measure of righteousness. Here in Luke 16 “Jesus weaves together the motifs of almsgiving (and, thus possessions) and friendship in order to demonstrate further the comportment toward the poor expected of” those oriented to the Kingdom of God.  Faithfulness to God is demonstrated in hospitality to the poor and the creation of friendships across social boundaries. Such faithfulness is blessed with an eternal home (16:9).

Sources

  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 586-97
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