Reflections for the Week of September 18, 2016 Eighteenth after Pentecost

Gospel: Luke 16.1-13. Jesus tells a parable of an unjust steward. The word “steward”, perhaps a little unfamiliar to us moderns, means the manager of a household or an estate. It is one of the most difficult parables to interpret because in it Jesus commends someone who is flagrantly dishonest. But Jesus is praising his cleverness, not his dishonesty.The steward was caught in his dishonesty and was fired and his cleverness had to do with how he dealt with the predicament of being fired.

But this parable can be looked at in another way. Jews were forbidden to take interest from fellow-Jews when they loaned them money. The rich man, the owner of the household, was apparently lending commodities–oil or wheat–but, to avoid the appearance of charging interest, was writing the bill for the amount loaned plus an amount that was additional, but this “interest” was not specified. For example, someone would borrow eighty measures of wheat and would agree to repay a hundred measures. The bill itself would not show any interest –just the agreement to pay one hundred measures, but the real interest was a usurious 25% (the twenty extra measures) that both lender and debtor understood. In order to provide for himself after being fired,the unjust steward marked the bills down as a favor to the debtors so they would have to pay less and would be grateful to the steward and owe him support at a later date.The master could not complain because then his usury would become known. Pretty smart of the steward! It is his cleverness in providing for his future that Jesus commended.

The “children of this age”, as Jesus refers to them, are the worldly-minded, i.e., secular-minded people as opposed to “children of light” who are spiritually-minded servants of God. The worldly people are more clever in providing of their future life (as they see it) than the spiritual who may be lax in doing what they need to do to inherit eternal life. “Unrighteous mammon”, often translated as “dishonest wealth”, refers to money or material wealth. Behind the parable lies the injunction that followers of Christ should be interested in treasure in heaven gained by faithfulness to Jesus or whole-hearted discipleship. In vv. 10-13 heavenly treasure, the reward only God can give, is contrasted with worldly wealth. True riches in a heavenly, i.e., spiritual sense, far outweighs money. The former is gained by faithfulness to God who is the real Owner of everything, of which we are all simply stewards (caretakers). Jesus is saying that if we have not been faithful in the things of God that we have been permitted to use in this life, then we will not be given things of our own in the life to come. He adds that a servant cannot serve two masters: money/wealth and spiritual values. We can choose which to serve, and we can choose the means by which we serve. We can be faithful, devoted servants of Jesus trying to live as He has shown us by putting Him first, or we can serve other goals like material possessions. And we can use all our intelligence and abilities in our devotion to one or the other. The “back story” here is that the pursuit of anything other than putting Christ first in our lives is idolatry. Jesus has made it clear that to follow Him means to put Him first in our life and to crucify (kill) any other goals. This way of life requires thought and use of all our faculties, like the steward did, to provide for our future which is spiritual if we are to be “children of light.”

Memory Verse: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Mt 6.19-21).

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