Sunday, September 19, 2010

Shrewd Steward

What’s a Steward?

So Luke has just finished up the parable of the Prodigal Son, one of the Bible’s all time greatest hits, and follows it with today’s reading, which is… not. People struggle with it. They don’t know how to interpret it. They don’t know what the moral is. It’s confusing.

Can you make sense out of it? How do you deal with a tough bible reading?

Luke 16:1-9 The Parable of the Shrewd Manager
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’
“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Help with tough bible readings:
  • Is it a particular style of writing? Poem, parable, history, etc. Knowing the style can help.

This is a parable. What do we know about parables?
o They’re teaching stories. What’s Jesus teaching about?
o Sometimes in response to a question. Not here, though!
o Sometimes Jesus explains them afterward. Again, not here! (At least not plainly.) He does ask more questions, though.

Luke 16:10-12 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

What does that tell us about the parable?

o Parables are often analogies: this is like that, this other thing represents…
Who is the master like?
Who is the steward representing?
Does the steward’s actions with the debtors stand for something?
What does the master’s praise for the steward mean?

  • What’s the context of the reading? What happens before and after?

This is towards the end of a string of parables; the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son before and Lazarus and the Rich Man afterwards. But specifically afterward, there’s an exchange with the Pharisees.

Luke 16:13-15 (still Jesus talking.)
“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”

What does this tell us about the parable?

  • See what the experts say about it. One of the benefits of the internet is being able to read so much from so many people.

Most studies interpret this parable as being about stewardship, which is often code for taking care of our money. We are stewards – caretakers – of God’s gifts to us, which includes our time, talents and wealth. I think it’s being too literal. The story is about a steward, yes, but that doesn’t mean the moral or principle of the story is about being a steward. (Doesn’t mean it’s not either.)

  • Write down or make note of what you’re thinking. Write or put notes in your bible documenting your thought processes.

What do you think? Put it in your own words.

  • You don’t have to have all the answers. Some things we understand now, and some things later. The Bible is God’s word. It’s important. It can speak to us. But it’s not necessarily easy.
  • If the passage you’re studying is a church reading, the readings for each week have connections that some very wise people suggest to us.

This weeks readings include: Old Testament prophet warning (Amos or Jeremiah), and this great statement from Paul to Timothy (1 Tim 2: 3-6)
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.

  • Talk with other people about it. Maybe this should come first!

Comic is from Too Much Coffee Man
a strange and funny but 
not always family-appropriate strip.

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