The Parable of the Dishonest Steward
Then he also 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.’ 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. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one. 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 kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ 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. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 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. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? 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.”Luke 16:1-13
The Shrewd Steward
In the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, Jesus marvels at the ingenuity of worldlings to secure their earthly welfare. The story opens with a rich landowner firing his manager for embezzlement. Since accounts needed to be turned in, the steward seized his final hours to win friends through his position. Unfit for manual labor and unwilling to beg, he used his authority to gain the favor of his master’s debtors.
Quickly and decisively, he summoned the tenants and slashed their bills, even up to half. The Greek word for “bill” or “promissory note” is grammata, “letters,” from gramma. In their own handwriting and in the presence of witnesses, the debtors accepted the bonus as coming from the master. Now, when the steward leaves his job, the jubilant community will welcome him as their champion.
The parable concludes with a nod from the master who has just become a local hero. Reversing the bills would only cause an uproar. Thus, with cool objectivity the master commends his steward’s prudence.
Redirecting the Mammon of Iniquity
What can we learn from the worldly-wise? “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).
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.New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to Luke 16:9
The “mammon of iniquity” need not lead one into sin. Following Jesus and the saints, we convert worldly goods into charity by merciful deeds. Since life is unpredictable, each day may be our last as Christ’s stewards on earth. May love and mercy secure our heavenly habitation.
At the end of the following poem about the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, we meet Zacchaeus, a dishonest tax collector who follows Christ, the Fisher of men.
How shall the kingdom of God be attained?
Heed the unjust steward who was arraigned.
When called to his lord to give an account,
Self-preservation became paramount.
In the face of looming termination,
The steward reviewed his situation.
Digging and begging were unbearable;
Crediting would make him favorable.
Quickly, he summoned his master’s debtors,
And reduced their bills with mended letters.
One by one, they walked away with a deal—
A contract promoting the common weal.
Debts of one hundred measures of oil
Fell to fifty for those renters of soil.
Tenants owing one hundred kors of wheat
Agreed to eighty on a balance sheet.
The savvy steward, making friends with wealth,
Ensured a welcome into homes and health.
The master approved the steward’s wisdom:
A lesson for all who seek the kingdom.
Thus Zacchaeus, when summoned to his Lord,
Stolen cash fourfold to victims restored.
Bestowing his possessions on the poor,
The tax collector bit the Fisher’s lure.
Christ commended his steward’s charity,
Which sold the mammon of iniquity
For salvation by the Blood of the Lamb,
And a home with the sons of Abraham.
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:8-10
In God’s hands, the mammon of iniquity
Builds heav’nly homes with the gold of charity.