The Prudent Steward

Last Updated on November 4, 2021 by GMC

Parable of the Dishonest Steward

31st Week in Ordinary Time, Friday (Year II)

Philippians 3:17—4:1; Luke 16:1-8

After the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and prodigal son, the dramatis personae (shepherd/sheep, woman/coin, father/son) morphed into a rich man and his steward. Like the sheep, coin, and prodigal, the steward found himself lost and disoriented when his shady dealings came to light.

Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. 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.’ 

Reliable sources informed the landowner of his steward’s dishonest transactions. To the steward’s credit, he said nothing in his own defense and offered no excuses.

The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? 

Up until this point, the steward took his position for granted and managed the master’s holdings irresponsibly. Pride and presumption gave way to humility and sobriety. The steward assessed his strengths and weaknesses in the face of reality and came up with a game plan.

I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ 

Manual labor and begging were out of the question for this formerly prosperous man used to administrative work. He decided to channel his native skills in asset management to secure his own future.

He called in his master’s debtors one by one. 

A creditor’s face is not one that debtors look forward to seeing, but the steward surprised them on this occasion.

To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 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.’ Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ 

The steward reduced the first debtor’s bill by fifty percent and the second debtor’s bill by twenty percent by taking no commission for himself (see NABRE footnote to Luke 16:1-8a). The loans were reduced to the exact amount owed to the master. The debtors walked away grateful and impressed with the generosity of the master and steward.

And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.

The master marveled at the steward’s ingenuity in the face of his misfortune. Instead of crumbling, the steward turned himself around and became proactive in finding a solution to his fiasco. His motivation for granting partial debt relief was not selfless, as he stood to gain by forging relationships with future benefactors. However, it was a first step toward correcting his former practice of dishonest transactions. Foresight, thought, and circumspection went into his decision to forego short-term profits for long-term gains. 

For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than the children of light.”

If the resources, thought and energy poured into financial institutions were directed toward love of God and neighbor, the world would be transformed. At bottom, we are all stewards of riches belonging to another, for “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

For we are placed in this life not as lords in our own house, but as guests and strangers, led whither we would not, and at a time we think not of. He who is now rich, suddenly becomes a beggar. Therefore whoever thou art, know thyself to be a dispenser of the things of others, and that the privileges granted thee are for a brief and passing use. Cast away then from thy soul the pride of power, and put on the humility and modesty of a steward.

Pseudo-Chrysostom, Hom. de. Divite., Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas, Luke 16:1-7

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