What is Christian Stewardship? Part 2

The parable of the unjust steward, found in Luke 16, has mystified many commentators.  The conduct of this steward is clearly contrary to popular notions of good stewardship.  Yet verse 8 says “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely”.  Some commentators try to wriggle out of this corner by noting that this was the lord of that steward speaking, and our Lord would never condone such behaviour.  This mind-set misses the point that Jesus instructs us to take the behaviour of the steward for our example.

The conclusion of this parable is found in verse 13: “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.  Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”  This verse is an integral part of the explanation of the parable of the unjust steward.  To separate it is to find the parable confusing and perhaps meaningless.

What is the message of the parable of the unjust steward?  Here is a man who has been a servant of Mammon, exacting all that was due his master in order to gain a living and security for himself.  It was his responsibility as steward to set the rent each of his lord’s tenants in order to provide for the needs of the lord’s household.  He then added enough to each tenant’s rent to cover the needs of his own household.  The steward in this parable appears to have been living in abundance.

He is called unjust, not because of unfaithfulness to Mammon, but because of his close alliance with mammon, which itself is unrighteous (verses 9 and 11).  As eventually happens to all who trust in Mammon, he finds himself betrayed.  All that he trusted in is to be taken from him.  In this setting the light dawns and he turns around.  Before he had oppressed others in demanding payment to the maximum of their ability.  Now he administers a measure of grace to his master’s debtors in releasing them from a portion of their debts.  It is entirely within his power while still a steward to do this and it would appear that he simply erased the portion that he was taking for himself.  He now sees that it will be in his best interest in the long term to do what he can to release others from their burdens.

This interpretation may be problematic for Christians who see stewardship as being principally concerned with the gain and care of material wealth.  We may say that it is God’s will that we exercise good stewardship of our material possessions in order to  be able to share with others and support mission programs.  However, an onlooker might question whether we are motivated more by the portion that we want for themselves than by the portion that we plan to give to God.

Are the needs of others very high in the minds of Christians who are busy endeavouring to be good stewards?  Indeed, there is not much room for compassion in this type of stewardship.  It becomes easy to see that the poor are poor because they don’t want to work and don’t take care of what they do have.  A distinction is often made between the “deserving” poor and those not so “deserving”, which provides a neat way out when faced with those whose needs are very real, though perhaps self-inflicted.

We say that everything we have belongs to God and that we are only stewards.  Would an impartial observer of our business practices and lifestyle come to that conclusion?

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