I heard this interpretation of “The Dishonest Steward” from Luke 16:1-9 from a friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous, and I found it quite enlightening. Now I wish to share it with others so I am putting it here on my blog. Any mistakes in transmission are entirely my own.
Verse 1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’
First we must identify who these characters are: The rich man must be God, and the steward should be understood to be ourselves in our individual relationship with God.
According to the parable God hears that we are wasting his goods, and tells us that we are going to be fired, that we are going to lose our position as his steward, which means that we are going to be cast out of his house.
What are these “goods” that we have been wasting? The goods represent God’s love. God has assigned us the responsibility to manage his love as a steward, to distribute his love, and to cause his love to grow, but we have wasted it by hiding it, and we have caused it to stagnate and to be unproductive, and for that we are going to be cast out of God’s Kingdom.
Verse 3 And the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.
Faced with the possibility of being cast out of the masters house for not managing his “goods” properly, the steward looks for any other avenue of support, or in other words, he looks for any other way back into the Kingdom.
“Digging” stands for ascetic efforts, hard labors for Christ, strict fasts, long vigils, multitudes of prostrations, and other such ascetic efforts, but the steward does not want to do these things, he says “I am not strong enough” to do that.
“Begging” represents beseeching prayer, begging God day and night to have mercy upon all of creation. However, the man says that he is “ashamed to beg”. He does not have the humility necessary in order to devote his entire life to such prayer.
Verse 4 I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’
So, having ruled out the possibility of becoming a great ascetic, and having also ruled out the possibility of devoting his entire life to begging God in prayer, the man realizes there is but one avenue remaining to him, and that is for him to be forgiving towards everyone.
The important thing that we must understand about forgiveness is that the majority of our debt to God, our perceived burden of sin, primarily exists in our own conscience. God has already forgiven us. It is we who refuse to forgive ourselves, and it is we who refuse to accept that God has forgiven us. So by forgiving one another, by cancelling out each others debts, and by saying to everyone we meet “I forgive you”, we are lifting off some of the burdens that they carry in their conscience towards God. So the steward gathers all those who have any debt owed to his master, and he cuts their debt in half, he forgives their sins. Afterwards there is still some debts remaining, but they seem greatly reduced.
Furthermore he says that the reason he does this is: “so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship” This can be understood if we think of our hope of one day entering the Kingdom of God. The day will come when we will stand before the gates of the Kingdom, and then we will realize that we are completely unworthy to enter. In that day our own conscience will absolutely condemn us, and so we will stand outside and refuse to enter. But, if during our lives we have been generous with our forgiveness of others, if we have been busy blotting out as much of other peoples debts to our master as we can, and thus if we have made friends for ourselves by being generous with our forgiveness, then these people who we have forgiven will refuse to let us stand outside in the darkness, they will refuse to listen to our attempts to condemn ourselves, and they will come out and gather us into God’s house, and even pull us through the gates if they must.
This is not to say that it is okay to be a wasteful steward, or that asceticism, or a life dedicated to prayer are not things we should strive for, but the reality is that we are all wasteful stewards. So then let us at least be forgiving stewards, so that when we stand before the gates, and our own conscience condemns us for being the horrible and wasteful stewards that we are, then those who we have spent our lives generously forgiving will come out and gather us home.