Midweek Faith Lift
The Parable of the Unjust Steward
November 9, 2022
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
October 7, 2022
The astonishing efforts of war-time champions mended a 10-year-old’s broken heart when she was reunited with her cat. Agnessa Bezhenar was forced to leave her kitty, Arsenii, behind when she and her family fled Ukraine for the safety of San Francisco. Nearly a dozen people, including other refugees, truck drivers, a motorcyclist, and flight attendants teamed up to journey the kitty through Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Greece, Canada, and finally to the waiting arms of Agnessa in the U.S.
“Overcome thoughts of fear and doubt with hopefulness, determination, joyousness, and effort. Let this day bring you and others endless joy, love, laughter, and blessings.” - Rajesh Goyal, National Institute of Construction Management, India
Affirmative prayer: I lift my desire and my heart-and-soul efforts with the love, energy, and power of Spirit. All that I am, all that I am called to be, and all that I give is underwritten by the Divine. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
This is a wonderful story that illustrates the essential energy of the Parable of the Unjust Steward. Today we are exploring the Parable of the Unjust Steward, which is found in Luke 16:1-8. It is one I was not familiar with and it has a lot of twists and turns, which makes it fairly complex. Dr. Michael calls it The Law of Conservation. It reads like this:
The Parable of the Dishonest Manager
16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly, for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If, then, you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? (NRSV-UE)
Ok, that is a lot, so let’s unpack it a bit to try to understand what the essential message is in this parable. As always, we are all the characters in the story. We are the “unjust steward” who has mismanaged things, we are the “rich man” who is owed a lot and we are the debtors. There are several overarching themes here, the first of which is to consider the “richness of the Universe.” There is a vast web of “richness” of energy and substance that is the Universe and we freely partake in that wealth. We have been told over and over again that all that God is, we are, all that is Gods is ours. Our challenge is to embrace that Truth in a healthy way, a generous and humble way. How is that?
We have learned that like the yeast in the bread, whatever we give our attention to expands and increases. Therefore, we first realize that this “substance” of the Universe is ultimately God’s, not ours. We are the stewards. As Dr. Michael says on p. 213 of The Hidden Parables of Jesus:
The parable tells us that God does not stand over us micromanaging the way we use this powerful substance. It tells us that Divine Intelligence largely leaves us alone to manage its use…the God being so described is not a co-dependent, dysfunctional God who …needs to control us, but is a healthy God…..(who knows) his children need to do their own homework….to make real learning.
So what is the real learning that Jesus illustrates in this parable?
Well, we are, whether we want to admit it or not, the “unjust steward” who has mismanaged what we have been given by the Universe. We have not always held ourselves accountable for our decisions even as we live with the consequences of them, right? That describes me for sure! The range of sizes of clothes in my closet tells that story for real! But we are reassured in this parable that we will not be judged by our management record alone. There is forgiveness, and that is a good thing, a real blessing. We are accountable but not condemned for our poor choices, thank goodness. There is the possibility of “redemption” of taking positive steps toward change that does not require an exact balancing of the scale for us to be acceptable as stewards of our life and good.
How does that work? Well, the principle of mercy and forgiveness is the key to understanding this parable, but it is described in a different kind of way. Jesus is instructing us in this story to forgive others who owe debts to God, to the Universe or to one another or to us. That is precisely what the “Unjust Steward” does in order to bring things into balance. He goes to each of the debtors and requests that they pay a portion of what they owe to bring things back into harmony and balance. He does not insist that they pay the full amount. Jesus specifically describes the leniency in each case of what is owed to make it very clear that this is how we need to approach others in the spirit of forgiveness- with generosity and mercy, not exacting revenge or absolute balance.
The steward initially does this for what seems like a self-serving reason: so that he has friends in the community as he fully expects the rich man to fire him. However, there is another plot twist in that the wealthy master who is owed a lot, does NOT fire him. Instead, the steward is described as acting shrewdly because what he did maintained positive relationships with all involved and that is highly valued by the great teacher, Jesus. In relating to wealth, to worldly possessions, we are able to undo the harm we might have done by our attachment to riches, our greed and our unwise management of them. It requires us to forgive what is owed to God by others, what is owed to us and to others and that is really a unique perspective and for sure counterintuitive to what people might expect.
What this parable teaches us is that the energy of forgiveness between people, between us and Spirit is an extremely powerful energy that we would do well to notice and heed. In reality, the debts that we contemplate in these circumstances are “perceived” debts, contemplated debts that are mental constructs and thus what Dr. Michael calls “varieties of resentment.” When we leave this plane, we take nothing with us and we owe no one anything. We spent a lot of time last week exploring how deadly resentment is, right? In forgiving we free ourselves of resentment, of grudge holding and we open to the light, to the love and full power of the Universe.
What Jesus is offering is a new consciousness. Our limited human perspective says people must be made to pay all that they owe, but Jesus is powerfully illustrating a new and higher perspective, a higher consciousness that he refers to as “children of the light.” We spend so much energy and effort focused on trying to make things right, finding what is “unjust” and holding one another accountable for our shortcomings and being upset at being shortchanged. Jesus is challenging us to think about where we are putting our energy and attention, on the management of “dishonest wealth” or the understanding of what is true wealth?
This parable is a powerful message in how we are to treat each other with mercy, love and forgiveness in all things, large and small. Personally, I have been caught up in the energy of revenge and then also freed by the energy of forgiveness. There are SO MANY things that are unjust and unfair in this world and there always have been. When I was in college, I did a class in Women’s Studies and after reading the history of how women have been treated across all cultures throughout history, I was angry and outraged. And then, by the grace of God, I realized that if I stayed there, I would just be permanently outraged and upset, and I could not live that way. Better to be proactive about opening ways for healing, forgiveness and generosity to prevail among all people.
Our ongoing challenge is to be like all the characters in the opening story of the little Ukrainian girl separated from her cat. We are all functioning in our highest and best energy when we work to bring about what supports the love, comfort and compassion of returning her cat in that face of the hideous war in Ukraine! In the end we will all account for how we used our time, energy and capacity for love in this world as that is what really matters!
Keep me away from the wisdom,
which does not cry,
the philosophy which does not laugh
and the greatness which does not bow before children.
- Khalil Gibran -
Blessings on the Path,