Prodigal Servant – Luke 16:1-13

25th Sunday
Luke 16:1-13

Last Sunday’s gospel visited the parable of what is popularly called, the ‘prodigal son’ . This Sunday’s gospel gives us an understanding of the ‘prodigal manager or steward’ . Prodigal simply means wasteful or extravagant. Last Sunday the prodigal son ‘squandered his father’s property( Luke 15:13) and this week the prodigal manager also squanders his masters property (Luke 16: 1); property given by his master to be administered for the good of others.

Both parables are merely illustrations. They are presented to bring out a greater truth. A parable is merely a vehicle to communicate a greater truth and that truth presented in this case, is in verse 13 of this Sunday’s pericope ; “you can’t serve God and money”.

Let’s look at the parable (verse 1 – 7). A manager or steward is charged with squandering his masters money. It’s obvious that the stewards misappropriations were public knowledge because when he was hauled before his master (verse 2) he was neither given a listening ear nor does he offer any defense. This leads the already aged manager who could not work (verse 3-b) and was too proud to beg, to hit upon an equally shrewd and devious plan for his future. His plan was to ensure that he would be ‘insured’ and he does this by winning over his masters debtors. Two things are at times both, subtly and clearly stated in this periscope; that his master was super rich (even though verse one says he was rich) and that the debtors were several, though the Bible mentions only two.

Let’s take the debtors first. Scripture tells us that he ‘summoned them one by one’ yet scripture mentions only two debtors. Perhaps these two were only examples to suggest the nature and quantity of the ‘insurance’ that the wicked manager was looking at. The words, ‘ one by one indicates that there were several’, but two serve as an example of the volume of this crooked insurance plan of the manager.

Verses 6 and 7 tell us of the debts and how super rich the master was. A hundred jugs of olive oil are re-written as fifty ( fifty percent) and a hundred containers of wheat were re-written as eighty. (eight percent). The reasons for these uneven ‘discounts’ become clear when one understands that a hundred jugs of olive oil amounted to 875 gallons of oil or one thousand dinars, the equivalent of three years labour. One hundred containers of wheat, on the other hand, amounted financially, to much more. It would be approximately the produce of one hundred acres of cultivation or three thousand dinari or eight to ten years of labour. Surely the master was super rich!

From oil to wheat to God knows what, the shrewd manager had insured his future and a welcome into the homes of all these merchants, now that he was kicked out of his employment. The reaction of the master is confusing. In all the previous parables, such dishonesty on the part of a steward would find him in the dungeons with the torturers. Not here! Why? Remember that parables are told to drive home a point and Jesus now lays down four points culminating in his focus point in verse 13.

In verse 8, Jesus lays out the PROBLEM
In verse 9, he lays out his SOLUTION
In verse 10 to 12 he gives us the INCENTIVES if we use his solution
In verse 13 he sums up this discourse by reveling WHAT IS IN HIS HEART

What’s the PROBLEM? The problem is that the children of light (that’s us Christians) are not passionate about the kingdom of God as compared to the example of the shrewd manager working out his insurance plan in the face of being sacked for cooking the books. That’s the problem! Agreed, that this is not the best comparison Christ could give us but Jesus brought in this SHOCK value, to awaken us. He was using the same stunts that modern media uses to get our attention; shock them! And shock them he did by juxtaposing the shrewdness of a dishonest person so that we may be shocked into being passionate for the good and for the kingdom. Note that Jesus does not condone or praise the wicked manager, he is just highlighting how shrewd the dishonest sons of this world are as compared to the children of light.

What’s Jesus’ solution? (verse 9). Jesus echoes similar words of the dishonest manager in verse 4 when he says, ” makes friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when It is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes”. His solution to our ill-gotten wealth and lack of our enthusiasm for the kingdom is that we too should then at least have some insurance plan for heaven. Jesus is suggesting that, if nothing else, like the dishonest manager we too should make friends with the poor and share this Ill gotten gain with them so that when we die it will be the poor who will welcome us to heaven. Such thought was not strange to the Jews for among their beliefs was a saying which stated that ‘ the rich help the poor in this world but the poor help the rich in the world to come’. Jesus is shocking us again with his solution and must have certainly got his hearers attention. If nothing else, collect some brownie points for heaven, for there is a pie in the sky when you die!

In verse 10 to 12 Jesus gives us the INCENTIVES if we use his solution. He is calling us to be faithful stewards of his kingdom. Remember there is a difference between a thief, a selfish person and a steward. A thief says what is yours is mine. A selfish person says what is mine is mine but a steward says what is mine is not mine, it is HIS ( the masters) to be used for others. Jesus’ grouse is that we are stewards that have not used talents and strengths, loaned to us, for the purpose of building up HIS kingdom and the betterment of others. We have not been good stewards, period! So the solution is to be faithful with and faithful in little things. To be honest in little things, be stewards working for the master, using HIS given talents to us, for the good of others.

Finally in verse 13, he sums up this discourse by reveling WHAT IS IN HIS HEART. You can’t serve God and wealth just as a slave can’t love two masters; for a slave was meant by their very nature to be devoted to one master. It was unthinkable, even as a concept, to have a slave serve two masters. So, if such a belief was part of the listeners consciousness, how much more should their conviction be in not being able to serve God and wealth? If the love of wealth has take us away from our stewardship then we, like the wicked manager, will also be sacked. That we too, like the wicked manager, will end up making shady deals to insure our future, deals perhaps with the devil himself. Through a process of using the most controversial examples, Christ is shocking us into consciousness, into living for his kingdom, into making a choice for his kingdom, into using his talents loaned to us, for the use of his kingdom. He is the king, the master, we are the stewards.

But there is something else that we are being warned about and that is, faithfulness to all things big or small. In order to be enthusiastic for his kingdom, in order for us to work as his stewards, we MUST be faithful. We can’t delude our selves into believing that ‘little’ ( verse 10)sins or our ‘little’ dishonesties are overlooked by God. He is calling for total fidelity, total honesty, total commitment to his kingdom.

Interestingly, Jesus is not calling us to abandon money. The translation of ‘he will HATE the one (master) and love the other, in verse 13 must be seen in light of the translation of the word ‘ hate’, which is also seen in Luke 14:25 where the cost of discipleship is laid down as HATING mother and father. The translation of this word, hate is, ‘to love less’. Christ acknowledges the need for money but not for wealth especially Ill gotten one! His point is clear, if you love God then you must love wealth less and that will help you be a good steward, focused on building the kingdom God.

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