Serving: lessons

dishonest-steward13 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.

The teaching portion of uses parallel opposites – trustworthy/dishonest, dishonest wealth/true wealth, small/great, what belongs to another/what belongs to you. Verse 13 forms a conclusion to the parable formed by an:

  • An opening assertion – No servant can serve two masters
  • Two supporting observations – He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other
  • The conclusion – You cannot serve God and mammon [see Note on Luke 16:9]]

The word translated “serve” in this verse is not the usual word for serve (diakoneo), but douleuo, which more literally means, “be enslaved to” or “be controlled by.” The same word is used in 15:29 of the older son stating to his father: “Look, all these years I served you…” One cannot be controlled by God and mammon. We can have only one God – and it shouldn’t be wealth.

As in this world, so in the kingdom: trustworthiness in small things leads to a greater trust; spiritual realities but also concerned with physical stewardship (v. 13). The community of Jesus will have to deal with problems of spiritual and material stewardship as there is always the danger of subordinating the spiritual to the material without realizing that a new master has taken over.

Craddock (Luke, 191-2) concludes his comments with:

Verses 10-12 contain sayings all of which are framed on what logicians call an argument a fortiori, that is, an argument from the lesser to the greater. The life of a disciple is one of faithful attention to the frequent and familiar tasks of each day, however small and insignificant they may seem. The one faithful in today’s nickels and dimes is the one to be trusted with the big account, but it is easy to be indifferent toward small obligations while quite sincerely believing oneself fully trustworthy in major matters. The realism of these sayings is simply that life consists of a series of seemingly small opportunities. Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with the queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. More likely the week will present no more than chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday school class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed the neighbor’s cat.


Notes

Luke 16:1 steward: In the Roman context a steward has access to his master’s wealth and acted as his agent in business affairs – leading to an enviable social status strongly associated with his master’s standing. The implication of losing such a position pointed to the alternatives of manual labor or begging – and homelessness as well.  In other words, the steward is facing life “outside the camp” as a newly marginalized member of that world.

The parable of the dishonest steward has to be understood in the light of the Palestinian custom of agents acting on behalf of their masters and the usurious practices common to such agents. The dishonesty of the steward consisted in the squandering of his master’s property (Luke 16:1) and not in any subsequent graft. The master commends the dishonest steward who has forgone his own usurious commission on the business transaction by having the debtors write new notes that reflected only the real amount owed the master (i.e., minus the steward’s profit). The dishonest steward acts in this way in order to ingratiate himself with the debtors because he knows he is being dismissed from his position (Luke 16:3). The parable, then, teaches the prudent use of one’s material goods in light of an imminent crisis.

Luke 16:6 One hundred measures: literally, “one hundred baths.” A bath is a Hebrew unit of liquid measurement equivalent to eight or nine gallons.

Luke 16:7 One hundred kors: a kor is a Hebrew unit of dry measure for grain or wheat equivalent to ten or twelve bushels.

Luke 16:8 dishonest steward: literally, steward of wickedness (oikonomos tes adikias). acting prudently: other translations take the term phromimos as “cleverly” as term close to the more common word for prudence (phronesis).  These are both terms that Aristotle described as a kind of practical wisdom. children of this world: This could also be translated as “children of this age” thus drawing a parallel to Luke’s use of phrases such as “this generation.”

Luke 16:9 wealth: mamōnás [wealth, mammon] The Greek miamōmás seems to come from an Aramaic noun which most probably derives from the root ’mn (“that in which one trusts”).  The word does not occur in the OT but is used in later Jewish writings in the senses (a) “resources,” (b) “gain” (especially dishonest), and (c) “compensation” or “ransom,” but also “bribe.” In general it has an ignoble sense, is often called unrighteous, and is a target of ethical censure and admonition. In the NT the word occurs only on the lips of Jesus. It denotes “earthly goods,” but always with a stress on their materialistic character. When people trust in it (Lk. 12:15ff.) or give their hearts to it (Mt. 6:21), they cannot love God. Believers, then, must break out of enslavement to it and learn to depend on God (Mt. 6:24). eternal dwellings: literally, “eternal tents” (aiōniai skēnai), possibly echoes the exodus tradition, as it refers to the “tent” (skēnē) or tabernacle of God’s presence. The adjective “eternal” clarifies that Jesus refers not to temporary dwellings, but rather to the permanent place where God’s presence dwells.

Luke 16:10-13 Jesus’ sayings about stewardship and wealth describe “a form of stewardship that is firmly rooted in the OT understanding of Yahweh as the true owner and conferrer of all land and property” with the corollary that since property and land are given to God’s people to manage in the horizon of their accountability before God, they are to be used for the good of all, including the poor (Green, 597, cf Gen. 12:7; Exod. 3:8; 32:13; Lev. 20:45; 25; Deut. 7:13).

Luke 16:11 dishonest wealth: literally, “mammon of iniquity.” Mammon is the Greek transliteration of a Hebrew or Aramaic word that is usually explained as meaning “that in which one trusts.” The characterization of this wealth as dishonest expresses a tendency of wealth to lead one to dishonesty. Mammon is called unrighteous not because it is inherently evil but because of the unrighteous attitudes the pursuit of money can produce. If money were inherently unrighteous, then all uses of it would be evil. But that is not Jesus’ view (see 19:1-10). The attitude reflected here may be similar to that of 1 Timothy 6:10, where Paul says that the love of money is the root of all evil. Our own experience shows us that money brings out distorted values in people. eternal dwellings: or, “eternal tents,” i.e., heaven. his opposed to the teachings.

Luke 16:10-12 The person who is trustworthy in very small matters…: The second conclusion recommends constant fidelity to those in positions of responsibility.

Luke 16:13 You cannot serve God and mammon: The third conclusion is a general statement about the incompatibility of serving God and being a slave to riches. To be dependent upon wealth is opposed to the teachings of Jesus who counseled complete dependence on the Father as one of the characteristics of the Christian disciple (Luke 12:22–39). God and mammon: see the note on Luke 16:9. Mammon is used here as if it were itself a god.


Sources

  • Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 306-11
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 586-97
  • Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000) 146-54
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 243-9
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) pp.965-6
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) pp. 254-6
  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) pp. 341-3
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985). Hauck, mamōnás, Vol. IV, pp. 388-90
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©
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