“And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:8-9 NASB)
Last time I said that the parable of the Unrighteous Steward was financial in meaning. Then I proceeded to draw an application that was generic rather than specific to finances. Basically I said that disciples of Jesus should be able to endure the trials of this life better than people who don’t know Jesus. Yet Jesus’ statements strung together by Luke are more specific.
First of all, the problem or challenge before the steward had to do with his livelihood. While some understand him to be seeking a new place to live. I believe that he sought other employment as his goal. That makes his problem financial. And Jesus continues this “theme” into the next three statements. I want to look at the first of these, which is arguably the most puzzling as well.
First off, who is this “they” referred to who will welcome us into eternal dwellings? I prefer the view that they are the “friends” made with the unrighteous wealth (or mammon). If this is the case, then the process of making friends with such resources really would either include or entirely refer to making disciples. In our day that would mean spending money on making disciples, which seems an overly easy way out. But that doesn’t make it wrong. On the other hand it doesn’t seem to relate at all to the actions of the steward.
But what if the reduction of debt followed by the steward might be understood to mean that we “reduce” the debt (or sin?) of those we seek to disciple? I’m not sure how that would look today, perhaps in being willing to overlook someone’s sin instead of considering it to be a barrier to discipleship. Since repentance is such an integral element of discipleship, that might make sense…might. But then how would we be using the “mammon” to reduce debt? It still doesn’t fit all the elements, regardless of how attractive it might be to any point of view, I can’t accept overlooking sin as the point of view of this passage.
The idea of reducing debt and the use of wealth are connected though. The problem is determining how they are connected. If the parable characters refer as so often to the Father as the master of the house, then who becomes the steward? What then would be the “wealth”? Wouldn’t that almost completely divorce the application from the financial arena? So then why would Jesus clearly state the use of unrighteous wealth to be the point? Clearly Jesus sees this entirely as a teaching about the use of wealth, unrighteous wealth at that.
Yesterday I said that the lesson of the steward was that we “children of light” should be able to deal wisely with adversity, even more so than those considered “sons of this age”. I don’t recant that, but I do further believe Jesus is tying His point to the use of wealth gained by unrighteous means. So, in adversity where we have at our disposal unrighteous wealth (ours or another’s) we are to focus on making eternal friends. In the case of the steward, he was losing his source of income, his livelihood. What would that look like for us, especially where the process involved having unrighteous assets? And what would we do with such assets in such a situation which would result in friends in heaven?
I have a cop-out. Suppose this results from Luke as “editor” preserving the words of Jesus, but choosing the order in which he presents them? What if he is using his arrangement to address a problem with which he knows “Theophilus” (or that church, or churches) would be familiar? What if this is something we don’t face today, but which was of concern then? What if monkeys suddenly sprang from my closet, stole my laptop, and made off into the desert riding wild horses? There are definitely problems playing “what if”? I play it anyway, but since it often ends with senseless monkeys springing into existence it’s usually a short game.
What if a church is faced with a large donation from the winner of a gambling venture, who then, the next day, impoverishes himself? What if a church is presented a gift which turns out to be from a noted criminal trying to assuage his guilt for his many sins; but then who is also determined to remain in his current life? What if then the FBI asks for the money donated by the criminal, after it has been used to “make eternal friends”? Again with the monkeys.
My point is that the specific application depends on the situation, but the basic concept remains that all financial adversity should be approached with the goal of making those eternal friends. In other words, when financial decisions have to be made the goal of our Master in such decisions is that His Kingdom grows, He has more disciples, and the result is eternal friends. So that should be our goal as well. At least I think so. That could be overly reductionist (can you believe I actually got to use that word in a sentence?).
Now you know why this passage is so difficult for disciples to understand. But even so, what’s your understanding?