Confusion in Luke 16


#1
  1. In the first parable, after the steward who is let go by his master he tells his master's debtors to write a lesser amount owed, which was apparently a good act. Why in the world would the master "commend the unjust servant, forasmuch as he had done wisely"? I would be furious if a servant I had just fired told people who owed things to me to make it less.

  2. In Luke 16:8, what does this part mean? "the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light." Wouldn't the children of light be wiser?

  3. In Luke 16:9 it reads "Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity: that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings." This makes no sense to me. Why be friends with bad people (mammon of iniquity), and go into everlasting dwellings with them? It seems like it would be Hell.

Luke 16 is utterly confusing to me, and I'd appreciate any help. Thanks!


#2

Haydock’s commentary on Luke 16 (compilation of Church Fathers and theologians)

Catena Aurea on Luke 16 (St. Thomas’s compilation of Church Fathers, etc)


#3

I understand this passage to mean that we are to use the wealth of this world to further the Kingdom of God. A manager of a store or restaurant might use this principle to donate a meal to a group making a retreat or performing a work of mercy.

During the great persecutions in the early Church, it was sometimes interpreted to allow bribing people to not turn Christians in (especially those who were in charge of distributing alms as they were particularly vulnerable to being betrayed - the informant was given a share of what the betrayed person possessed).


#4

It might be a bit clearer in a different translation…

If you use The New Americn Bible it reads like this:

8 And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. 9 And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.

Luke 16:8 - Shrewd is perhaps a better word than wise. Jesus isn’t praising the behavior; he is saying that the sons of this age are more shrewd or cunning than the children of light which would, by contrast, be more honest.

Luke 16:9 " Wealth of Unrighteousness" or “mamonas”, for Aram mamon (mammon); i.e. wealth, etc., personified as an object of worship.
What is being said here, the way I read it, is that you “make friends” with the wealth you worship & you dwell with your false gods of money, because you will *not *be dwelling in Heaven due to the unrighteous actions and your worshiping of money.

It isn’t Jesus telling people to behave this way, he is using the example of this behavior to make his next point… and I think the following verses make it more clear - - remember to read in context:

15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

I’m no theologian - but this is how I read the passage.


#5

[quote="aball1035, post:1, topic:321326"]
1. In the first parable, after the steward who is let go by his master he tells his master's debtors to write a lesser amount owed, which was apparently a good act. Why in the world would the master "commend the unjust servant, forasmuch as he had done wisely"? I would be furious if a servant I had just fired told people who owed things to me to make it less.

[/quote]

We have to remember that the context here is a debtors prison. We don't have debtor's prisons any longer so we have no context for Jesus teaching. If you couldn't pay your debt then you went to jail and could be sold as a servant, or even a slave to pay your debt.

When Jesus speaks of "Servants" he is often referring to those whom God has placed in a position of authority in Judaism and the new Church. These are God's "Servants" who are to minister to the people, to serve their spiritual and religious needs. When Jesus speaks to the "Crowd" he is addressing the common man, all of us, the laity.

The people in legitimate positions of authority (servants) do not have less or more authority because of their unjustness, because of their personal holiness or lack thereof.

**Then Jesus spoke to the crowds **and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. (Matthew 23:1-3)

One of the things which the Levitical priests were to do was to assist the people in atoning for their sins. Even if the priest was a very bad man, it did not mean that the ordinary man's sin offering was useless or that God would not accept it at the hands of the priest. We know this same belief, that the personal sin of a priest does not invalidate the sacraments he administers.

"Owing less" could be seen as getting time off from Purgatory, or as pennance for sin. Remember the context... debtor's prison. Jesus paid our debt, released us from prison and "Purchased us for a price". The practical application for that is the sacramental system combined with our own faith in Jesus and the system which he instituted.

In Luke 16, Jesus is talking to the disciples and not the crowds or the people. Jesus is teaching his Church, that the leaders of the Church should assist the people in lessening their debt to God, and in so doing lessen their own debt and redeem themselves by faithfully carrying out their vocation to the priesthood.

-Tim-


#6

Here is my understanding in addition what have already been posted above:

The steward earned wealth through dishonest means - similar to today’s “loan shark.” To sustain his extravagance, he must have imposed exorbitant interests on loans. Thus, he did not really lose money when he reduced the debts. By correcting the amount to what was just, he established for himself and the others “goodwill.” That is why “the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light,” - the dishonest steward knew how to save himself.



#7

Hmm… I would disagree with a few of the things that were written here: the steward is neither a ‘loan shark’ (this would imply that the steward and the master were committing the sin of usury) nor is this a “debtor’s prison” situation (if it were debtor’s prison, then the debtors would have already paid out from all of their resources and yet still owe money; therefore, they have nothing to give, so giving a 50% discount would be meaningless – moreover, being broke after getting out of “debtor’s prison”, they would be unable to hire the steward, which is what he’s interested in, anyway!).

The parable is a difficult one to understand. In fact, scholars disagree on many aspects of the parable’s meaning. It’s important, though, to understand the context of the parable: beginning in chapter 14, Jesus is preaching on the proper disposition toward possessions. Having just told the parable of the prodigal son, which demonstrates God’s all-encompassing love for his children (even in the face of wanton spending and of begrudging filial devotion), Jesus turns his attention to the Pharisees. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, He implicitly accuses the Pharisees of love of money and of hardness of heart. Now, in chapter 16, Jesus turns towards his disciples.

The technical term for all of these sorts of parables is the “reversal of fortune” story. The prodigal son is a slave; he returns to sonship. Lazarus is destitute; he gains a place in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man is, well, rich (!), and he suffers the torments of Gehenna. In chapter 16, too, we have a reversal of fortune.

The rich man here is not necessarily a sympathetic character (nor is his steward). We see that the steward, acting on behalf of his master, has responsibility for managing his master’s finances. When we look at the values of the loans (800-900 gallons of olive oil and the amount of wheat that 20-25 family farms could produce in a season), we see two things: first, these amounts aren’t pocket change (in fact, they both amount to 500 days’ wages)! So, these people who owe the master are at least ‘businessmen’, if not roughly equivalent to the master himself! Second, we don’t know whether these are loans, properly speaking (‘give me X and I’ll pay you back 800 gallons of olive oil’) or if these are farming investments (‘give me the resources to grow olives and I’ll pay you back 800 gallons of the oil I produce’). Third, although the amounts appear to be unequal – that is, when the steward forgives the amounts, it appears to be favoritism – but that isn’t the case; in both examples, he’s forgiving the same monetary value. Finally, we need to look at what the steward’s actions are really doing, here, in order to understand the situation.

(Sorry I’m running long: let me continue this post…)


#8

Now, if the steward is forgiving part of the debt that is principal or interest, then what he's really doing is stealing from the master. If this is the case, then it's difficult to see how the master would commend his steward for the action! (We haven't talked about the steward's offense, yet: it's possible that it's either that he was acting improperly with the master's money, or simply that he was behaving improperly with his own personal life and this impropriety reflected poorly enough on the master that he fired his imprudent steward.) If the steward were already accused of embezzlement, it would make no sense for the master to commend him for further embezzlement...! Moreover, let's not forget what the steward is doing: he's trying to garner favor with a prospective future employer. I ask you: what employer would hire a person to manage his money when he knows him to be dishonest and prone to stealing from his employer? ;)

So, perhaps it isn't the principal or interest that the steward is working with...! Perhaps, then, what he's doing is working with his cut -- his 'salary' for managing the debts! If this is the case, then the parable makes sense: the prospective employers are more well-disposed toward the steward, and the master sees the steward's shrewdness and commends him for it! By taking a short-term loss, the steward ensures a long-term gain. Shrewd, indeed!

(It's possible, of course, that the steward was doing something that wasn't unheard of in that day: stewards would 'help themselves' to their masters' resources that were laying unused, and utilize them in short-term transactions in order to collect interest. They weren't stealing their masters' resources, but were using them for personal profit. Not entirely ethical and honest, but common in that day. Common in this day, too: workers use tools from work at their homes, or use copiers or printers for personal work.)

But, what does this mean? How does Jesus use this parable? Well, the children of this age know how to take short-term (financial) losses and turn them into long-term (financial) gains -- and this is exactly what Jesus is advising his disciples to do, in the realm of eternal life, rather than in financial matters! In this section of Luke, Jesus is talking about how to act with respect to possessions -- in this light, Jesus is telling his listeners to take the short-term hit on earthly possessions, so that in the long-term, they'll achieve a heavenly reward! In fact, this exactly mirrors Jesus' advice in Luke 12:33! In this light, the parable makes perfect sense... ;)


#9

Good day Gorgias,

It makes no sense :confused: for an employee to receive a wage bigger than his employer.

How can the steward receive a commission or salary that is half of the debt - 50 out of the 100 measures more than the profit or interest of his master, who must also invest on the cost of oil?



#10

[quote="bsy, post:9, topic:321326"]
It makes no sense :confused: for an employee to receive a wage bigger than his employer.

How can the steward receive a commission or salary that is half of the debt - 50 out of the 100 measures more than the profit or interest of his master, who must also invest on the cost of oil?

[/quote]

bsy,

I believe that's one reason why some scholars have put forth the suggestion that the steward was making investments on the side, utilizing his master's (unused or idle) resources in order make some profit on his own and for his own benefit. In this way, then, the steward was ensuring that the master's resources were returned to him at the end of the steward's employ, while at the same time, endearing the steward to those creditors who would soon become potential employers. ;)

On the other hand, though, note also that "half the debt" isn't the story here: it isn't that the steward is forgiving half the debt in all cases, but that he's forgiving the same value in these cases. These two are only examples out of all of the debtors whom he calls in "one by one" (in the Greek, ἕνα ἕκαστον - "each one").

Also, the story doesn't give us enough details that we might know that the man invested in olive oil (which, if he did, might make your objection reasonable). Perhaps the steward brokered a deal which granted use of the land or olive presses, in return for an amount double what his employer would expect (and which he would take 50% of the proceeds as his cut). Do you think that deals like that don't get made every day, even to this day? ;)


#11

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