Derek Leman is a Messianic Jewish rabbi, and I subscribe to his free Daily D’Var, in which he comments on passages in the Torah and the Gospels from a religious and a scholarly perspective. I would like to share here his comments today on Luke 16:1-18, which includes the Parable of the Shrewd Steward.
Luke 16:1-18 (KJV):
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 he had wasted his goods.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.
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.
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
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?
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
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.
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.
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.
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.
11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?
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.
14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
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.
16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.
18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.
Derek Leman’s comments:
NOTES: As with the manager in the parable, the Children of Light (Jewish leaders) are about to be visited by their master. What will they do to secure friends in eternal tents? Will they help people reduce their debt to God or will they continue doing nothing (or even opposing Yeshua’s movement of reaching out to sinners)? The parable confuses many concerned with the possibility that unethical actions of a manager are being praised. Some deny that the manager’s response is unethical (perhaps he is simply removing the high interest his master charges from the customer accounts). As Luke Timothy Johnson says, the issues in the parable amount to two simple things: how to respond to the visitation of the master and how to use possessions. The manager begins by using possessions selfishly. But when he hears the master is coming, he seeks to use possessions in a way to win friends. He uses his power to reduce the debts of those he does business with. Likewise, Yeshua’s disciples give alms to those in need and also teach forgiveness, so that people may reduce their debts both economically and spiritually. Vs. 9 suggests almsgiving as a way to use money wisely. Vss. 10-12 suggest that God rewards disciples based on their use of possessions. Vs. 13 suggests that money (or possessions) may either be an idol or a means of serving others. The exact logic of vas. 14-18 is hard to follow at first. Luke Johnson suggests the following progression: the Pharisees feel superior in their Torah piety, but Yeshua reminds them something new is here (announcement of the kingdom’s arrival) which builds on top of the old (Torah piety). Yeshua implies that the new teaching of Torah he brings (the gospel of the kingdom) is more intense than theirs (the law and prophets which were until John). He then goes on in vss. 19-31 to tell a parable questioning whether anyone who is not committed to almsgiving can hear Moses at all. And these Pharisees are lovers of money (and, thus, not fervent in almsgiving). Luke’s method of relating this conflict is transparent and simple. He pinpoints for readers a fault of these Pharisees (love of money) and shows this as opposition to kingdom values. Without Luke’s note in vs. 14, we might have guessed the esteemed things of vs. 15 were power and domination. But, while that may be true, Luke is focusing on a more narrow offense: greed. In vss. 16-18, Yeshua claims that the Pharisees are not as good at Torah piety as they imagine. Yeshua’s kingdom gospel is intensifying Torah, not diminishing it. Slackness about divorce is an example of the Pharisees’ failure to intensify Torah. And meanwhile, John the Baptist marked the boundary from before and after the arrival of the kingdom (in Yeshua’s life and deeds the kingdom can be said to have partially arrived). The real piety of Torah looks for the kingdom and makes this world like the world to come by providing for all who are needy and hurting.