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Second Great Group of Parables.
(Probably in Peræa.)
Parable of the Unrighteous Steward.
C Luke XVI. 1–18.
c 1 And he said also unto the disciples [If we remember that many publicans were now taking their stand among Jesus' disciples, we will more readily understand why Jesus addressed to them a parable about an unjust man. They would be more readily affected by such a story], There was a certain rich man, who had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he was wasting his goods. [“Wasting” of this verse and “wasted” of Luke xv. 13 are parts of the same verb. The attitude of the two brethren to their father's estate, as set forth in the previous parable, introduced thoughts as to the proper relation which a man bears to his possessions, and these relations Jesus discusses in this parable. While no parable has been so diversely explained, yet the trend of interpretation has been in the main satisfactory. In verse 8 the Lord himself gives the key to the parable, which is that the children of light, in the conduct of their affairs, should emulate the wisdom and prudence of the children of the world in the conduct of their affairs. The difficulty of the parable is more apparent than real. The whole parabolic machinery is borrowed from worldly and irreligious life, where dishonest cunning and rascality are freely tolerated. The child of light is equally shrewd and wise in the management of his affairs; using, however, only those means and methods which are permissible in his sphere of action. God's word, of course, nowhere teaches the absurdity 507that sinful methods are permitted to him whom it calls to lead a sinless life. While the steward's conduct teaches valuable lessons, the steward himself is condemned as an “unrighteous” man in verse 8 .] 2 And he called him, and said unto him, What is this that I hear of thee? [an indignant expression of surprise arising from abused confidence] render the account of thy stewardship; for thou canst be no longer steward. [Ordinarily the stewards were slaves; but this was evidently a free man, for he was neither punished nor sold, but discharged.] 3 And the steward said within himself, What shall I do, seeing that my lord taketh away the stewardship from me? I have not strength to dig [Being too weak in body because of my luxurious living. Digging refers generally to agricultural labor]; to beg I am ashamed. [Being too strong in pride because of my exalted manner of life.] 4 I am resolved what to do [a way of escape comes to him in a sudden flash of discovery], that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they [my lord's debtors] may receive me into their houses. 5 And calling to him each of his lord's debtors, he said to the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6 And he said, A hundred measures of oil. [The measure mentioned here is the Hebrew bath, which corresponded roughly to a firkin, or nine gallons.] And he said unto him, Take thy bond [literally, writings], and sit down quickly and write fifty. [The amount remitted here—450 gallons of olive oil—represented a large sum of money. Such a reduction would put the debtor under great obligation to the steward.] 7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, A hundred measures of wheat. [The measure here is the Hebrew cor, which contains ten baths, or ephahs, or, more exactly, eighty-six and seven-tenths gallons.] He saith unto him, Take thy bond, and write fourscore. [The amount remitted was about 267 bushels, and the debtor himself altered the writing, that he might be in no uncertainty about it. Scholars disagree as to whether these debtors were tenants or traders; i.e., 508purchasers of produce who had given their bonds or notes for the same. Meyer, Trench, Godet, and others favor this latter view, but the language used and the customs of the land rather indicate that the former is correct. In the East rents are in proportion to the crop, and hence they vary as it varies. It was natural, therefore, that the steward should ask the amount of the rent; and also natural, since rents were thus payable in kind, that the tenant should answer as to the very thing owed. A trader would have been held, not for the purchase, but for the price, and would rather have specified the money due than the quantity or thing bought. Since the price of produce varies, it has been the immemorial custom everywhere to fix the amount to be paid for it at the very time it is purchased, and this amount becomes the debt.] 8 And his lord commended the unrighteous steward because he had done wisely [shrewdly]: for the sons of this world are for their own generation [their own clan or class] wiser than the sons of light. [That is to say, the steward, a worldly-minded rascal, knew better how to deal with a worldly-minded master above him and dishonest tenants beneath him, than a son of light knows how to deal with the God over him and his needy brethren about him. The verse contrasts the sons of two households: the children of the worldly household exercise more forethought and prudence in gaining among their brethren friends for the day of need, and in expending money to that end, than do the children of the light. The “devil's martyrs,” in their skillful prudence, often shame the saints. If the latter showed a wisdom in their affairs analogous to that which the unjust steward employed in his affairs, God would commend them as the lord commended the steward.] 9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness [see p. 257]; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles. [Worldly possession are the Christian's stewardship. If he has been wasting them in self-indulgence, he must take warning from the parable and so employ them in deeds of 509usefulness and mercy that, when the stewardship is taken from him, he may have obtained for himself a refuge for the future. But how can those whom the Christian has befriended receive him into heaven? The key to the difficulty is found at Matt. xxv. 35–40, where our Lord altogether identifies himself with his poor and unfortunate disciples, and returns on their behalf a heavenly recompense for any kindness which has been shown them on the earth. Only in this secondary and subordinate sense can those whom the Christian has benefited receive him into heaven. Nor does the passage teach that their is any merit in almsgiving, since the thing given is already the property of another (verse 12). Almsgiving is only a phase of the fidelity required of a steward, and the reward of a steward is not of merit but of grace—Luke xvii. 7–10; Matt. xxv. 21.] 10 He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much. [God does not judge by the magnitude of an act, but by the spiritual principles and motives which lie back of the act. A small action may discover and lay bare these principles quite as well as a large one. In the administration of small properties entrusted to us on the earth we reveal our disposition and temper as stewards quite as well as if we owned half the universe.] 11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? [The word “unrighteous” is here used to mean deceitful, as opposed to true. Worldly riches deceive us by being temporal and transitory, while the true riches are eternal—II. Cor. iv. 18.] 12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? [We are all God's stewards, and the perishing possessions of earth are not our own (I. Chron. xxix. 14), but that which is given us forever is our own—I. Cor. iii. 22.] 13 No servant can serve two masters [Gal. i. 10; Jas. iv. 4]: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and 510mammon. [See p. 257.] 14 And the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things; and they scoffed at him. [They derided him with open insolence (Luke xxiii. 35). This was a new phase of their opposition, and showed that they no longer feared Jesus as formerly, being assured that he aimed at no earthly dominion. Because of his poverty they may have regarded him as prejudiced against wealth. At any rate, they regarded themselves as living contradictions of this to them ridiculous statement that a man could not be rich and yet religious.] 15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves in the sight of men; but God knoweth your hearts: dor that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. [The Pharisees lived in such outward contrast to the publicans and made such pretensions and claims that men esteemed them righteous, but they were none the less abominable in God's sight. God approves righteousness when inward, but despises the mere outward show of it.] 16 The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man entereth violently into it. [See p. 283.] 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than one tittle of the law to fall. [See page 236. The law and the prophets had been used of God to set up the old dispensation, and it had been so perverted and abused that in it the Pharisees could pass for righteous men, though abominable according to its true standard. Since the days of John the old dispensation has been merging into the new, and this also has been subjected to violence. But despite all the changes made, approved, and justified by men, the God-given law had never changed. Its smallest letter could no more be eliminated than the universe could be obliterated. But of course the Lawgiver could with notice modify his law.] 18 Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth one that is put away from a husband committeth adultery. [See p. 242. This precept is inserted here as 511an illustration of a flagrant violation of the law of God both countenanced and practiced by these Pharisees.]
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