Parables in Luke’s Gospel.
Did you ever try counting how many parables Jesus used in his teaching? This is a tougher question than one may think. Often we read right past a parable without noticing it.
Here’s a one line parable. Jesus was questioned as to why he and his disciples did so little fasting. Probably they did not approve of his obvious enjoyment of good food and company. Jesus answered them, “Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” Lk 5: 34
There are about forty five parables in Luke’s gospel. Sometimes he copies from Mark and Matthew. Many are only to be found in his gospel. Here are a few:
The Barren Fig Tree (13: 6-9); The Guest who wanted the best place at the feast (14: 7-11); The neighbour who all but knocked down the front door around midnight. (11: 5-8); The rich man who could not see the great chasm between Lazarus and himself.(16: 19-31)
Unique to Luke is his “lost and found” department. Lost Sheep; Lost Coin; Lost Son; “Dishonest Servant”. (15: 1 – 16: 8a)
Let’s read the Parable of “The Dishonest Servant”. This parable is acknowledged as one of the most difficult to understand.
1Jesus said to his disciples: “There was a rich man and he had a steward who was denounced to him for being wasteful with his property. 2He called for the man and said, “What is this I hear about you? Draw me up an account of your stewardship because you are not to be my steward any longer.” 3Then the steward said to himself, “Now that my master is taking the stewardship from me, what am I to do? Dig? I am not strong enough. Go begging? I should be too ashamed. 4Ah, I know what I will do to make sure that when I am dismissed from office there will be some to welcome me into their homes.” 5Then he called his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, “How much do you owe my mater? 6”One hundred measures of oil” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond; sit down straight away and write fifty.” 7To another he said, “And you sir, how much do you owe?” “One hundred measures of wheat” was he reply. The steward said, “Here take your bond and write eighty. 8The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness.
I am sure you are a little confused. It certainly looks like this parable is encouraging dishonesty!
Try reading it a second time. Use your imagination. Concentrate on the qualities of the “Rich Man”.
What did you discover? The rich man was generous to a fault. He warned the servant, but took no action against him. In fact it is quite possible he re-instated the steward. Perhaps we could revise our title for this parable. Let’s call it, “The Generous Employer”.
Time to read the parable, of “The Generous Employer” once more. Look at what it tells us about the Steward.
He seems to be a likeable person, most certainly inefficient and wasteful. He knew how to enjoy life and was not keen on hard work; “to dig I am not able”. He had his own pride and was certainly not going to turn to begging. We are also told that he liked people and enjoyed the company of good friends.
“But he was dishonest!” you shout out. Perhaps a better understanding of how stewards functioned will shed a whole different light on his actions. Stewards worked on a commission basis, so when he reduced the debts he was also lowering his income. Rents were not fixed. They went up when the harvest was good and down in years of poor harvest. Obviously the rich man was known for his generosity so the debtors would not have questioned the lowering of their rent.
The steward also seems to have banked on his employer’s generosity. Wasteful, he certainly was, but he took nothing for himself.
Perhaps he was not so wasteful. Jews were forbidden to take interest on loans to fellow Jews. (Lev 25: 36) Our Steward may well have reduced the debts by the amount of interest due. In this light he is acting both morally and legally. Everyone wins. The master is presented as gracious, generous and obedient to the law. The debtors have their bill reduced. The Steward has secured the lasting gratitude and friendship of the tenants.
There are two lessons we can draw from the parable. The steward realized that there are more important things than money. For him, friendship was high on his list of values. Think of all that you value more than money. The Rich Man has much to tell us about sharing.