The Parable of the Unjust Steward and Its Lessons. Luke 16, 1-18.
The accusation of unfaithfulness: V. 1. And He said also unto His disciples, There was a certain rich man which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that lie had wasted his goods. V. 2. And he called him and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. The three parables of the previous chapter had been addressed to the Pharisees and scribes, probably in the presence of the publicans and sinners, and surely in the presence of the disciples. The parable of the steward is spoken to the disciples, but the Pharisees were still present. Disciples includes not only the Twelve, but all the followers of Jesus. There is a hint even here. A certain man there was, and he was rich, so rich that he personally did not attend to the clerical work and to his finances, leaving all this to a steward and putting him in full charge, as trusted officer. But the steward was accused, an accusation was brought against him to the master, that he was wasting the goods entrusted to his care, that he was squandering his master's money, either by fraud or by extravagant living. The definiteness of the accusation caused the master to assume that the charge was true, and so he summoned the steward before him. He wanted him to give an account of himself and his work: What is this that I hear of thee? He orders him to produce his books, to render an account in detail of his stewardship before his position terminates. For if the books showed a discrepancy between the rents or debts that had been due in the past and the money that should be on hand, the loss of his position would naturally follow. There was still some chance for the steward, if he could prove or furnish apparent proofs of his innocence.
The deliberations with their result: V. 3. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? For my lord taketh away from me the stewardship; I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. V. 4. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. V. 5. So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? V. 6. And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. V. 7. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill and write fourscore. V. 8. And the lord commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely; for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. The unfaithful steward found himself in a very unpleasant situation, out of which only his wit could extricate him. Jesus reproduces the resulting monolog with realistic faithfulness. The steward was in a quandary, he was racking his brains for some way out of the difficulty. Dismissal under the circumstances meant degradation; no other master would give him a clerical position. He must be content, if he finds work at all, with such as involves little responsibility. His thoughts turn to farming, since his work had brought him into contact with agricultural labor; but he is physically not strong enough to dig, he could never stand that. The other alternative seems to be begging, and to do that he is ashamed. But finally he hits upon a scheme that ought to work. By means of it he hopes, even now yet, either to avert the threatened blow, or, in case he should not succeed in doing this, to provide for himself a comfortable old age. Should he lose his position and be degraded, the people whom he has in mind would be under obligations to take him into their houses. He carries his plan into execution at once. One after the other of his lord's debtors he summons to the office. Since he still had charge of the whole business, he could easily do this. "These debtors might be farmers, who paid their rents in kind, or persons that had gotten supplies of goods from the master's stores." In each case, as he speaks to the individual debtor, he follows the same plan, although only two examples are given. At his direction, they changed or rewrote their bills of indebtedness, putting down a smaller amount than that which had been stipulated or which was due to the owner. One man owed a hundred measures, about seven hundred and fifty gallons, of oil. The amount was changed to read only one-half as much. Another owed one hundred measures, between seven and eight hundred bushels, of wheat. The amount was reduced to eighty. The object of the steward was to meet either contingency. If this scheme would prove successful, the shortage would no longer exist, for the income would appear to have been much smaller than the lord thought. Should the plan be found out, the bills of indebtedness would legally stand, and the debtors would show their gratitude by providing for him. It has even been suggested that the steward had falsified the amounts in the bills of indebtedness originally and pocketed the surplus, and was now returning to the original correct figures. At any rate, it was a clever scheme. Even the master, when he received information concerning this latest trick of the steward, could not withhold a certain commendation. He praised him, not on account of his unfaithfulness and his fraud, but on account of the cleverness in handling the situation and extricating himself out of an unpleasant predicament.
The application of the parable: V. 9. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. V. 10. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. V. 11. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? V. 12. And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own? The lesson of the parable has really begun in the previous section, and it may be that the entire judgment of verse 8 was spoken by Jesus. The children of this world, the people of the present day and age, are wiser than the children of light, the believers that have been enlightened by the Spirit of God, in their generation, toward their own kind; they exhibit much more keenness and business ability in their concerns than the children Of the Church in theirs. They show their wisdom in relation to men of their own kind and in reference to worldly matters. It behooves the Christians to profit by their example and to show the same zeal, the same keenness, the same business ability in matters of the kingdom of God. One application of the lesson the Lord Himself makes with the emphasis peculiar to Him (as for Me, to you I say). The Christians should make for themselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness. Mammon, a term found in several ancient languages, denotes money. Now, one evidence of the wisdom of the children of the world consists in this, that they make provision for the future, that they make all their business ventures serve this end. To put themselves and their families beyond care as soon as possible is their object, and therefore they make use of every possible advantage to attain to this end. The children of light, on the contrary, are often anything but energetic and diligent in the things that pertain to God's kingdom. They forget, also, that the end is coming, that they will have to give an account to the Lord in regard to their business transactions for Him. Therefore Jesus here admonishes them that they should so conduct their affairs, and principally those that concern temporal goods, wealth and money in general, that they, like the steward, shall make friends with the goods, with the mammon entrusted to them. Christians will use their money in the interest of the kingdom of God, in establishing and extending the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the world. And wherever they can, they will be actively interested in true charity in all its phases. In this way the poor congregations, the heathen, and others that receive the benefit of such investments, and the poor and suffering of the household of faith, will be under obligations to them. All these debtors will later show their true friendship in such a way that they will receive the Christians into the everlasting habitations. For the time will come that earthly wealth and mammon will fail; it is entrusted to every person only for the short space of this earthly life"; ,and they themselves must leave this world behind. Then the wisdom of their investment will be demonstrated. For all those that have received any form of benefit from the money of the Christian brethren and sisters will then speak for them before the throne of God, testifying to the gifts which they enjoyed here in this world by the kindness of the members of the Church that were willing to share with the less fortunate in the possession of this world's goods. "All the good that we do to poor people here, the friendship and benefits which we show them, those works will on the last day not only be witnesses that we have conducted ourselves as brethren and Christians, but will also be rewarded and paid. Then some one will come and praise: Lord, this person gave me a coat, a dollar, a loaf of bread, a drink of water when I was in trouble." 86)
But Jesus draws other conclusions from the parable. Faithfulness in small, apparently insignificant things is a criterion. It will follow that he who shows the right spirit, true faithfulness, in the less, will be faithful also in the greater, while the opposite holds true in the opposite case. Now, if a person does not prove faithful in the administration of the money which the Lord has entrusted to him for the short space of this earthly life, who will be foolish enough to entrust matters of real value and importance to such a one? The care and charge of spiritual gifts and goods presupposes the faithfulness in the less important temporal goods. Faith, which accepts and preserves the heavenly goods, all the gifts of God through the means of grace, will prove itself in the faithful discharge of earthly duties, in conscientious use of earthly goods, in mercy and beneficence. He that is not conscientious in the use of the money and goods entrusted to him gives evidence of lack of faith and of a contempt of heavenly goods. And if people are not faithful in the administration of the things that belong to another, who will he willing to give them such, as are their actual property? People of wealth in this world are administrators, stewards of God's goods,' which He has entrusted to them in the form of money or its equivalent. This involves responsibility, and the day of reckoning is coming. If God finds that such people could not even be trusted with strange property, He will conclude that they cannot be trusted either with the gifts of His grace, which are intended for their property for all eternity. All spiritual gifts, all that the heritage of heaven implies, are, unlike the temporal possessions, outright gifts. But the latter are given only to such persons as have given proof of their faith by works which proved that they could be trusted. The presence of faith is invariably shown by works of love.
A lesson concerning covetousness. V. 13. No servant can. serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God. and mammon. V. 14. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things; and they derided Him. V. 15. And He said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. V. 16. The Law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. V. 17. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass than one tittle of the Law to fail. V. 18. "Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery. It is impossible for a servant to be in the service of, and to render proper service to, two different masters. Cp. Matt. 6, 24. The one will have his affection and respect, and therefore the service which, flows out of these feelings; the other will have his dislike, if not his outright hatred. And so he cannot serve the interests of both. If any one serves mammon, attaches his heart to his money, to his wealth, if he has only the object of satisfying his own desires, he cannot at the same time serve the Lord. His heart will be where his supposed treasure is. This last saying angered the Pharisees, who were present and had heard the parable. They were lovers of money, they were covetous. And since they felt the sting of the words, they tried to turn the tables on the Lord, in a childish way, by turning up their noses at Him, by sneering and deriding Him. This behavior of the Pharisees causes Jesus to flay their self-righteousness, and to remind them of some other shortcomings and vices which were found in their midst. They justified themselves before men, they lived their lives so as to conform with the outward forms of holiness before men, who could not look into their hearts to discover the hidden meanness. But God looked beyond the veneer of outward righteousness, He knew their hearts in all their filthiness. Before men they may be highly respected, but before the Lord they and their entire behavior were an abomination. And it is true in general that conventional moral statements are the opposite of real truth; the hypocrisies of the so-called high society in many cases are such as to make the behavior of the lowest class of people that are sincere in speech and action seem golden by contrast. But even here the searching mercy of the Lord is apparent. For He tells the Pharisees that the Law and the Prophets were in power until John, who stands on the threshold between the Old and the New Testaments. But beginning with John, and since his coming, the glorious preaching of the kingdom of God, as revealed in Jesus the Christ, had gone forth, and every one that became interested at all was so completely overcome with the glories revealed that he pressed forward with might and took it by force. Cp. Matt. 11, 12. 13. The believer is obliged to battle with, and to overcome, all his own natural desires and lusts, and to deny the. world with all its gifts and allurements in order to enter into the Kingdom. But this does not imply that the Law has been abrogated. The situation rather is this, that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, - and heaven and earth will actually be destroyed, - before so much as one tittle, a single diacritical mark of the Hebrew script, falls to the ground. Cp. Matt. 5, 17. 18. 32. Therefore also the Seventh Commandment with its judgment upon covetousness would continue in force. And no less should the Pharisees remember the Sixth Commandment, concerning which there was far too much license in their midst. What Jesus had said at other times He here repeated with emphasis. The wanton dissolution of the marriage-tie by which a man put away his wife for almost any reason that he chose to name, simply by giving her a bill of divorcement, and then entered into a union with some other woman, is adultery before God. And the union with a woman that has been thus put away by her husband without a cause that God acknowledges is again adultery. God will not be mocked with the lax marriage and divorce of these latter days. The state may, for the sake of expediency, permit many things to the children of the world which God condemns unequivocally; but that fact does not and cannot influence a Christian nor cause him to deviate one inch from the will of God as revealed in the Law.
The Rich Man and Lazarus, the Beggar. Luke 16, 19-31.
A contrast in fortunes: V. 19. There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day; v. 20. and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate full of sores, v. 21. and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table; moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. Although, for the lesson of this story, it is immaterial whether it is a parable or the account of an actual happening, as Luther remarks, yet the manner of presentation points to the correctness of the latter assumption. The connection between this narrative and the previous conversation is evident. The servants of mammon, by their misuse of the gifts of God, by their misapplication of the funds entrusted to them, earn for themselves the tortures of damnation. The vivid contrast which runs through the entire description should be noted: A certain rich man that made it a habit to appear always in dresses of the most expensive kind, purple and silky linen, that lived splendidly and yielded himself fully to the delights of feasting every day; on the other hand, a poor man, whose name, Lazarus (trust in God), has been preserved, living in the squalor of the utmost poverty, lying at the entrance gate of the rich man's estate, with his ragged clothes insufficient for covering the ulcers which had broken out on his body due to unhealthy conditions of living and improper food, satisfied with, and eager for, the scraps which were thrown out from the table of the rich man. The dogs were more merciful than the men that saw him in his misery, for they at least came and licked his ulcers. The one lived only for himself and for the delights and luxuries of the body. He may have seen the beggar whom some one had deposited at his door, as he went in and out, or as he rode by in his fine carriage, but he paid no attention to him nor to his condition. Unpleasant facts interfere with the enjoyment of life. "If we look at this rich man according to the fruits of faith, we find a heart and a tree of unbelief. For the Gospel rebukes him that he daily fared sumptuously and dressed splendidly, all of which reason does not regard an unusually great sin. ... But this rich man is not reproved because he had fine food and splendid clothes, for many saints, kings, and queens formerly wore fine dresses, as Solomon, Esther, David, Daniel, and others; but because he set his heart upon it, he sought, he clung to it, he chose it, he had all his joy, desire, and pleasure in it, and made it his idol." 87)
Another contrast: V. 22. And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried, by the angels into Abraham's bosom; the rich man also died, and was buried; v. 23. and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. V. 24. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. V. 25. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. V. 26. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us that would come from thence. Here the fortunes are reversed with a vengeance : the servant of God in bliss, the servant of mammon in misery. The beggar died, he finally succumbed to the combination of sickness and starvation. But his death provoked an embassy from heaven: he was carried up by the angels into the bosom of Abraham. Note: So inexpressibly wonderful is the bliss of heaven that human language cannot, even remotely, describe its glories; and therefore this circumscription is used, the bosom of Abraham, as the father of all the faithful. He that had not had a friend in the wide world, whom people refused so much as to touch, now was joyfully received into the eternal home and found a place of honor by the side of Abraham, leaning against his bosom, as the beloved disciple leaned against the bosom of Jesus. But the account of the death and funeral of the rich man is extremely bare and meager: he died and was buried. Such is the valuation which God places upon the life of him that wasted his substance in service of self; that was God's obituary. But the sequel? In hell, where his soul found itself, the former rich man found himself in tortures, in inexpressible agony, as great, by contrast, as was the bliss of Lazarus whom he could see. In his pain and misery he called out for relief, asking Abraham to have pity upon him and dispatch Lazarus with only so much as a single drop of water on the tip of his finger, to quench the burning, feverish thirst which was consuming the pampered soul. Just a little cooling he longed, he pleaded for, on account of the flame which was affecting him with the severest pains. Note: Now the rich man could and did notice Lazarus, now he could plead for a favor from the hands of him whom his dainty fingers refused to touch in life. But the pathetic request is refused. Son, indeed, Abraham calls him, for such he is after the flesh, and upon that carnal relationship he had depended; but there is no relationship of spirit between them. He should remember that he .had received that which he had wanted, the good things of life, while he was still alive and in the world. He had served mammon, and mammon had rewarded him after his own manner. Now the position of Lazarus and the rich man were reversed: the former received comfort, the latter torture. There was absolute justice in the situation. And even if Abraham had been willing to listen to the pleading of the poor wretch in hell, there was no possibility of fulfilling his request, since there was a deep chasm, an unbridgeable abyss, between the place of the blessed and that of the damned, firmly fixed, excluding all possibility of intercourse. So, though he that never showed pity now asks pity; though he that never practised humility now humbly pleads, there is no chance, his last hope is gone.
Hearing Moses and the Prophets: V. 27. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house; v. 28. for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. V. 29. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. V. 30. And he said, Nay, Father Abraham; "but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. V. 31. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead. A strange change has come upon the former rich man. Formerly he cared only for himself and the gratification of his own desires, but now, when it is 'too late,' he remembers duties and kindnesses which he should formerly have shown to his relatives. The repentance of the damned in hell may be sincere and comprehensive a thousand times over, but then it is too late! A second petition the poor wretch sends across the chasm. He wants Lazarus sent back, as a spirit from the land of death, to warn his five brothers, lest they share his own awful fate. Where faith and belief have been thrown out, unbelief and superstition are rife and rampant. When the Word of God in Law and Gospel has been declared insufficient for the would be enlightenment of a twentieth century, there spiritualism, real and imitated, is hailed as a solution and salvation. Abraham therefore gives him a bit of much-needed information. The old sound doctrine, the written Word of God, is the one and only safe norm and rule of doctrine and life. Moses and the Prophets were accessible to the brothers, they were read in all the synagogs on the Sabbath-day; let the brothers seek for the truth there, nothing more would be needed. If the brothers at that time, if the people of our time, will not heed Moses and the Prophets, if they will not obey the Word and heed its lessons and warnings, as well as its admonitions and promises, then there is no more hope. The Word is a lamp unto the feet of every searcher of truth, Ps. 119, 105. Note: Hell is not a figment of a diseased imagination, but hell is real! Its torments are terrible: A consuming and yet never destroying flame; thirst that cannot be alleviated by so much as a tiny drop of water; the ability to see the bliss of the saints in heaven, but no possibility of ever becoming partakers of that happiness; no deliverance or salvation from hell's tortures, all hope forever gone.
Summary. Jesus tells the parable of the unjust steward and adds several lessons for the disciples and for the Pharisees, and relates the story of the rich man and of Lazarus, the beggar.