Friends with dishonest wealth


#1

For the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, The Gospel According to Luke states:
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Please explain.


#2

Money is dishonest because it buys
worldly things which CANNOT sat-
isfy our deepest longings. Instead
Jesus tells us to “make friends”
w/ it… give to those in need of money,
so that those who benefited from your
giving, after you died, you will be wel-
comed into their dwellings in heaven.


#3

No doubt, it’s a difficult passage to make sense of.

Jesus has just told a parable of a man who was extremely clever in the way that he did business. By carefully and diligently paying attention to the details, he was able to move successfully from one living situation to the next.

One way of looking at v9 is this: Jesus is telling us to pay attention to the parable – in the same way that the dishonest steward was diligent with his ‘dishonest wealth’, we (as disciples of Christ) should be diligent (in our use of resources, and in our discipleship) in order to secure ‘eternal dwellings’.

“Dishonest wealth” is a difficult translation to work with. The phrase is really “mammon of iniquity”, and the term ‘mammon’ here (and in v13) takes on a range of meanings. In one sense, it is what Jesus is referring to as “small matters” (our salvation is what He is referring to as “great ones”). Looking at it another way, the etymology of ‘mammon’ is “the [temporal] things in which you put your trust”, and so, Jesus is definitely contrasting the cares of this world with the true goal (salvation). In still another way, we can see Jesus contrasting temporal wealth (which leads to iniquity / dishonesty) with eternal wealth (which leads to eternal reward).

Lots going on in this parable and its lessons…!


#4

D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:

Ver. 9. Make for yourselves friends, &c. Not that we are authorized to wrong our neighbour, to give to the poor: evil is never to be done, that good may come from it. (St. Thomas Aquinas) — But we are exhorted to make the poor our friends before God, by relieving them with the riches which justly indeed belong to us, but are called the mammon of iniquity, because only the iniquitous man esteems them as riches, on which he sets his affections; whilst the riches of the virtuous are wholly celestial and spiritual. (St. Augustine, de quæst. Evang.) — Of the mammon of iniquity. Mammon is a Syriac word for riches; and so it might be translated, of the riches of iniquity. Riches are called unjust, and riches of iniquity, not of themselves, but because they are many times the occasion of unjust dealings, and of all kind of vices. (Witham) — Mammon signifies riches. They are here called the mammon of iniquity, because oftentimes ill-gotten, ill-bestowed, or an occasion of evil; and at the best are but worldly, and false: and not the true riches of a Christian. — They may receive. By this we see, that the poor servants of God, whom we have relieved by our alms, may hereafter, by their intercession, bring our souls to heaven. (Challoner) — They may receive you into their eternal tabernacles. What a beautiful thought this! What a consolation to the rich man, when the term of his mortal existence is approaching, to think he shall have as many advocates to plead for his admittance into the eternal mansions of rest, as he has made friends among the poor by relieving their temporal wants. The rich give to the poor earthly treasures, the latter return in recompense eternal and infinite happiness. Hence we must infer, that the advantage is all on the side of the giver; according to the saying of our Lord, happier is the condition of him who gives, than of him who receives. (Haydock)


#5

This accords with what our Lord taught in :

Matthew 10:16 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
Coming Persecutions

16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.


#6

Please take a look at the context, by first evaluating the parable.

Here’s a steward.

In those days, stewards would take care of the rich man’s property. The rich man would not pay him a salary, but would say something “Here’s deal #14. I want a minimum of 100 jars of oil.” So the steward would negotiate 120 jars of oil and keep the 20 for himself as his pay. Or maybe even split that 20 with his employer. Each employer had a different set of agreements with their stewards.

The steward was accused of being dissolute with the master’s property. Maybe he wasn’t splitting his profits with his boss. Maybe the boss wanted to keep all the profits for himself, so made a false accusation. So there was something dishonest going on.

So the steward, knowing he’s not going to be able to keep the extra items he negotiated (remember, these are promissory notes, debts not paid yet), he tells the people who owe his master money, to write new promissory notes, that have a lower debt to replace the promissory notes that had the higher debt - the difference being his pay he’s not going to get.

He basically took assets he could never get, and gave them away. It cost him nothing. His boss still had the original agreed amount on the promissory notes, so the boss only lost the “dishonest” part of his wealth - the part that he was willing to cheat his steward out of.

So he made friends using that dishonest situation (i.e. boss was trying to cheat him out of his pay, so he returned the favor by giving up his pay in the promissory notes that he wasn’t going to get anyway).


#7

To OP, hi, yes we discussed this in another thread.

There is no condoning of dishonesty of course. I agree with (and have stated) the thesis that the idea is that if you’ve gotten wealth illicitly then at least you can give alms with it as opposed to hoarding it.

Also, the USCCB commentary (about this Gospel section) is that Luke gathered other independent sayings by Jesus and placed them after this parable (presumably because they related to attitudes towards wealth and dishonesty). So, the passage you refer to may seem to condone what the steward did but based on the USCCB commentary it’s apparently not in the direct context of the parable. In fact it’s the rich man (master) who admired it because he is also “a child of this world”.

To the previous poster, I have heard the “commission” theory but respectfully, I don’t think we can be sure about that (it’s not in the Scriptures here) or if it even is needed as an explanation given that both rich man and steward are taught as examples of “children of this world”. The rich man admiring the dishonest actions is just as wrong as the actions themselves. Again, it can be confusing in light of the subsequent passage “Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth” but the USCCB commentary clears that up (IMHO) by saying that it’s actually an independent teaching of Jesus that was placed by Luke after the parable.

usccb.org/bible/luke/16


#8

No. Remember, it’s immoral to do evil in order that good may come of it!

Also, the USCCB commentary (about this Gospel section) is that Luke gathered other independent sayings by Jesus…

So, the passage you refer to may seem to condone what the steward did but based on the USCCB commentary it’s apparently not in the direct context of the parable.

Just a word of advice: you probably don’t want to rely on the USCCB footnotes as your sole source of exegesis. Just sayin’… :wink:

In fact it’s the rich man (master) who admired it because he is also “a child of this world”.

You don’t know that. The ‘kyrios’ might be Jesus. :wink:

To the previous poster, I have heard the “commission” theory but respectfully, I don’t think we can be sure about that (it’s not in the Scriptures here)

Jesus never explains the context of his parables – He knows that His audience understands them. The fact that “it’s not in the Scriptures” doesn’t handcuff us into refusing to understand the cultural context of the parable! There are lots of good resources out there – and a lot of respected scholars – who provide sufficient background and explanation to give the ‘commission’ theory a reasonable backing.

The rich man admiring the dishonest actions is just as wrong as the actions themselves.

Are the actions ‘dishonest’? Or are they described as ‘shrewd’? (cf v. 8)

Again, it can be confusing in light of the subsequent passage “Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth” but the USCCB commentary clears that up (IMHO) by saying that it’s actually an independent teaching of Jesus that was placed by Luke after the parable.

Again, be careful swallowing the footnote wholecloth, without scrutiny. But, even if you do believe that these are “originally independent sayings”, then you have to account for the fact that Luke placed them here as being relevant to the parable…! You can’t just say “well, they’re independent, so Luke must’ve just wanted to pad his page-count, and just threw them in willy-nilly.”


#9

As usual, the Catena Aurea is helpful:

dhspriory.org/thomas/CALuke.htm#16

Something to be sure to note is that the word “with” does not have “dishonest wealth” for its object, but rather for its subject… We are using dishonest wealth to make friends.

If we can be shrewd in dealing with goods we have illegitimately (for the steward must have been put away for some unknown crime of dishonesty in trade), by ridding ourselves of them, even if they are lost to us (as is the case with all money), our cunning may be praiseworthy. But if we even rid ourselves of material wealth that is legitimately ours, then we are close to the Kingdom indeed.

It’s a call to the Evangelical Counsel of Poverty.


#10

#11

I don’t think he was saying the man did something dishonest in order that good will come; I thought he said he would “UN-DO something dishonest” in order that good will come.
AKA: The man already had done something dishonest, and was undoing it.
At least, that’s how I read the other poster’s comment.

Are the actions ‘dishonest’? Or are they described as ‘shrewd’? (cf v. 8)

Phront-os.
The present, official, USCCB bible translates it as “prudent.”
Prudence is a virtue…
The Greek has “Phrontos”. I haven’t exhaustively checked the concordance, but shrewd is going to be a decent translation. However, the steward is said to be “unjust” (adikias) in that exact verse… so, tit for tat… the action is being said to synonymous with dishonest.

Again, be careful swallowing the footnote wholecloth, without scrutiny. But, even if you do believe that these are “originally independent sayings”, then you have to account for the fact that Luke placed them here as being relevant to the parable…! You can’t just say “well, they’re independent, so Luke must’ve just wanted to pad his page-count, and just threw them in willy-nilly.”

:smiley: Exactly.
I notice that Luke connects the passages with “for”, AKA “because.” (Hoti).
Luke definitely wants us to see them as connected.


#12

From my reading of Herzog, I actually think that Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager or unjust steward is a moral tale of an “under-dog” surviving at the hands of a predatory elite through the sheer power of his intellect and quick-thinking.

It is about an ordinary person surviving in a harsh and unforgiving world commandeered by distant elites who reap profits at the expense of the labour of others lower down the pecking order.

The master, in the sociological context of first-century Palestine, would have been an exploitative land-owner. As such, he counted on his steward to watch over his financial affairs while he pursued political power further afield and thus expected steward to realize enough profit to sustain his exorbitant lifestyle.Consider that “rich men” are never depicted otherwise but as oppressors and godless individuals in the Gospel of Luke, which is characterised by a socially egalitarian and ardent anti-elitist ethos that is not so strident in the other canonical accounts.

The steward is therefore in a powerful but vulnerable position for a freeborn male of the retainer class. On the one hand, he has the power to act in the name and with the legal personality of his master. On the other, he is wholly susceptible to being dismissed by his master and reduced to a life of begging or manual labour, if a bad harvest comes and disgruntled debtors and/or tenants use him as a scapegoat to voice their complaints against the master.

In this respect, we can interpret the accusations of financial impropriety against the steward as less moral denunciations of his character than they are typical examples of indirect peasant resistance vis-a-vis the landowner. Since they cannot go into open revolt against their landlord or hope for modern-day rent controls after a strike, their only mode of effective resistance is to spread rumours about the master’s steward that could result in his fall from grace. If the steward can be ousted, the successor will have to tread carefully and so be more amenable to peasant demands. The master will take the accusations badly since his steward is in a position of trust.

According to the parable, this seems to be what has happened. On the basis of rumours that he is squandering his master’s property, the steward has been made redundant and faces near-certain death as a beggar or the prospect of eking out a miserable existence of manual labour that would find him unable to compete in a job market with men who have been “digging” their whole lives. In other words, his dismissal is potentially lethal and puts him in an impossible situation.

The steward represents and acts in the interests of a predatory elite, while the peasants must rely on basic subsistence living to get “by” anyway they possibly can. Their strongest bet is to take down the steward if they can - a fall guy scapegoat who is really only doing his job in an exploitative system over which he himself has little-to-no control, like the hated tax-collectors were doing for the Romans as well.

As Herzog explains:

"Faced with a limit situation, the steward devised limit acts that changed the scenario from a sorry and predictable tale of woe to a scene of rejoicing. The master who held all the cards lost the hand. The weapons of the weak, employed by the debtors were matched with an arsenal of equal strength by the steward, whose weakness was also exposed. Out of the battle came a temporary respite for the debtors, a glimpse of a time when debts would be lowered, and a place where rejoicing could be heard. This may not be a parable of the reign of God, but it suggests how the weapons of the weak can produce results in a world dominated by the strong.”

The cunning of the steward essentially turns the tables of this vicious game back on the master.

He cancels half the debt of the incendiary peasants, thus gaining their trust and approbation.

When the master finds this out, he is now faced with an equally impossible situation: he can either accept praise and thanksgiving from his pacified tenants who think that the steward had been acting out the master’s wishes (unaware that he had in fact lost the capacity to act in his master’s name), or he can tell them that the steward had actually been fired and that their debt relief is therefore illegitimate and void, thus receiving their inevitable ire.

The master chooses the first option and reluctantly keeps the steward in his job while commending his “shrewdness” towards both himself and the tenants whom he effectively bribed with reductions in their debt. In the end, the cunning of the steward leads to a happy ending for both himself and the peasant tenants. It is the rich man who loses out.

So, in other words, I read it as an anti-elitist parable commending the cunning of an ordinary man placed in an impossible situation by impoverished debtors and one of his society’s “big men at the top” in the context of an exploitative social setting. This reading fits in with Christ’s continual refrain that the “least among all of you is the greatest”, "the first shall by last and the last shall be first" in the Kingdom of God i.e.

**Luke 22:25-26New International Version (NIV)

25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.**


#13

Hi Vouthon,
I enjoyed your post.

Yes. If only this kind of person existed more often in the church, perhaps the priest scandals and pedophile issues could have been avoided. The “Lording it over” aspect of power leads to exactly to evil in the church. Therefore, “It can not be that way with YOU.”
Pray for us, Joan of Arc.

The master, in the sociological context of first-century Palestine, would have been an exploitative land-owner.

So, Herzog believes that Jesus is preaching about a sterotype to make a point. The point doesn’t really depend on all landowners being dishonest. All that matters is that a particular abuse happens often enough that it becomes enshrined as a suspicion.

Consider that “rich men” are never depicted otherwise but as oppressors and godless individuals in the Gospel of Luke, which is characterised by a socially egalitarian and ardent anti-elitist ethos that is not so strident in the other canonical accounts.

:slight_smile:
I am always suspicious of extreme generalizations. They are seldom completely true. I think extreme generalizations are often more of an expression of feelings than fact.

You made me think about Luke 18:22. This event is especially pertinent to the parable of the rich steward. Although Luke’s account doesn’t praise the man, Luke does not condemn him. He is not painting this man as Godless. If Luke intended to do so, he would be directly contradicting the other Gospel writers. Consider the ambiguous idea of “lack” in Luke 18:22. That can be what the man desires, or what he needs. So, look for more details in Matthew 19:21 and Mark 10:21.

Mark tells us that Jesus(God) “looked on him with love.” Jesus affirms that the man is pleasing to God. The man is obviously NOT lying when he says that he obeys all the commandments since his coming of legal age. This particular rich man is just.

Now, consider Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector. Matthew left his money to become a priest. Therefore, Matthew is personally invested in the words of Jesus. Matthew could judge the man, but Matthew goes out of his way to carefully qualify Jesus’ response. "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions … ". Jesus does not say, “You must be perfect, NOW!”

The three synoptic Gospels all agree, and not only superficially. Luke merely reports what he knows without accusing the man of anything.

For us, reading Luke’s text thousands of years out of context … the bias of the reader can mislead them into illusions of non-extant corruption. Poverty is not a requirement of eternal salvation; but poverty IS a requirement for a man wishing to become an wandering priest of God. Jesus gave the man an option to follow in his footsteps as he physically walked the promised land and entered Jerusalem (Kingdom of God). ( eg: Actual context )

With this point in mind, notice that Jesus’ advice to the beloved “rich man” exactly matches the what the unjust steward did. However, the beloved “rich man” is not unjust.
Trying to find corruption in an innocent man (just because he is rich) is the nature of evil gossip. Yet, our own present day evils and recent history lead us (scholars/peons alike) to believe we see things in the scriptures which are illusionary.

The steward is therefore in a powerful but vulnerable position …

Substitute priest for steward, and everything you say is still true.

In this respect, we can interpret the accusations of financial impropriety against the steward as less moral denunciations of his character than they are typical examples of indirect peasant resistance vis-a-vis the landowner.

Yes, and the same is true with today’s priests.

Since they cannot go into open revolt against their landlord or hope for modern-day rent controls after a strike, their only mode of effective resistance is to spread rumours about the master’s steward that could result in his fall from grace.

Modern day…
Considering that I have been the victim of both injustice and roomers, lately, I like your point. But, your idea will be condemned as often as it is blessed. Look at 1Timothy 5:19-21. The bishop is in the place of the “landowner”, his priests (and deacons) are in the place of “stewards”, and the congregation is in the place of “peasants.” (This was true 2000 years ago.) We are at the mercy of the steward, and the most we can do is complain to the bishop; but the bishop is advised NOT to hear complaints. If the bishop ignores the abuse, a selfish or vindictive priest then dumps his wrath on a “tattle tale”; If the bishop pressures the priest, maybe the complaint of the parishoner is a lie. A peasant is not trained in politics, but both the priest and bishop are. There is a distinct advantage for real stewards in manipulation of public opinion.


#14

If the steward can be ousted, the successor will have to tread carefully and so be more amenable to peasant demands. The master will take the accusations badly since his steward is in a position of trust.

That true regardless of the reason for the ousting. The appearances become more important than the truth. Gossip is a two edged sword.

Consider chain stores, today. Often managers at stores will “forget” to tell their sales clerks certain facts. The clerks are innocently misled about their product. The buyer gets a bum product. Now, some buyers will complain, others will lump it. “Lumping it” favors the store’s wealth. The store has little incentive to change, but every incentive to “try” to change.

When a customer seeks justice, they suddenly discover that they were “mistaken.” The salesperson did not intentionally defraud and there is no grounds for lawsuit. Because human error is unavoidable, the store will be forever trying (and failing) to prevent future failures. However, sometimes the salesperson is really dishonest. They know what is happening. As long as they say nothing, there is no collusion and the store is immune to fraud charges. Therefore, a lazy salesperson feels more secure because they reason that they are not a threat to an (assumed) corrupt manager. If the salesperson is not lazy, they risk being made out to be a tattle and fired. The probability of being fired is high. The probability of successful lawsuit is low.

In other words, his dismissal is potentially lethal and puts him in an impossible situation.

Exactly. He is convinced that lazy is better.

The steward represents and acts in the interests of a predatory elite, while the peasants must rely on basic subsistence living to get “by” anyway they possibly can.

I agree, but I don’t think the elite have to be intentionally predatory. The results won’t differ.

Their strongest bet is to take down the steward if they can - a fall guy scapegoat who is really only doing his job in an exploitative system over which he himself has little-to-no control, like the hated tax-collectors were doing for the Romans as well.

I agree and then disagree. A peon’s strongest bet is to use social pressure to try to effect a necessary change … and the gossip is often true. Consider what happened in many pedophile priest scandals ten years ago. The bishops were not trying to be predatory. The bishop is the middle man between presumed innocent priests and the government (who are of differing religions). That’s the human condition of Jesus’ church. Appearances ARE important, but they can lead to worse evils. A bishop will avoid hearing accusations if at all possible.

With man it is impossible, but for God all things are possible. Some things are just … dysfunctional.

The cunning of the steward essentially turns the tables of this vicious game back on the master.

How wonderful it would be if I had the wisdom to turn tables and still bless the master. Herzog is basically insinuating that a sin – gossip – was the only way an entrenched/impossible injustice could be remedied? I pray that world war III can be avoided as easily. If sin absolutely can not be avoided, may world war III be avoided venially. Don’t do evil so that good may result… but “A person trustworthy in small matters, is trustworthy in larger ones.”

In the end, the cunning of the steward leads to a happy ending for both himself and the peasant tenants. It is the rich man who loses out.

That rhymes with 21’st century politics. Let me attempt to share wisdom I may not have.

I don’t see a loss. The rich man’s reputation is preserved. So long as no collusion is proven between the steward and the rich man … everyone has deniability. The government will not be trying the rich man in court. The steward may or may not be dismissed ( but he has protection !!!) The rich man is free to have another accident or to do “evil” or repent. The only thing that is certain, is that the rich man loves challenges or he would not be rich.
The peons, and the steward, just made the game … interesting … and a little annoying.

So, in other words, I read it as an anti-elitist parable commending the cunning of an ordinary man placed in an impossible situation by impoverished debtors and one of his society’s “big men at the top” in the context of an exploitative social setting.

I can see that as one interpretation; but I don’t think the setting needs to be purposely exploitative. Famines happen. God allows us to be put to the test.

**Luke 22:25-26New International Version (NIV)
25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. **

Your quote is primarily aimed at priests. The contexts suggest to me that the parable is aimed at the idea of hierarchy. eg: “What do we do when a ‘subtle’ serpent can’t be seen, but is IN the house!”

Consider a saying: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I think the saying is essentially dishonest. The truth is that “Power attracts corruption, and absolute power attracts absolute corruption.” God is Good. But the false saying spreads evil and atheism like gossip. Undeniably, power DOES attract evil. A good man in power will find evil men are soon his friends. The angels closest to God became the very ensoulment of evil. Some of the Holy fire serpents (Seraphim) fell from just below the Son and Spirit all the way down to a de-winged snake. Power and riches have no innate moral quality, they merely provide fuel for impossible situations. A wise man will hide most of his power.


#15

Wow. Eisegesis at its finest. :rolleyes:

I don’t think I’ve heard this kind of Gospel-as-class-warfare interpretation in decades. You realize that the magisterium has rejected the notion of liberation theology… right? :wink:

The cunning of the steward essentially turns the tables of this vicious game back on the master.

He cancels half the debt of the incendiary peasants, thus gaining their trust and approbation.

Peasants don’t have the ability to make deals of the scope of this parable. These were amounts of commodities whose values were many years’ worth of salary. These weren’t deals with peasants. The values indicate that the steward was dealing with wealthy persons who made high-value deals.

The master chooses the first option and reluctantly keeps the steward in his job

There’s no indication in the parable that the man retains his job.

So, in other words, I read it as an anti-elitist parable commending the cunning of an ordinary man

This doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Read a bit further in the chapter: if the ‘ordinary man’ was shrewd with money, why would the pharisees, “who loved money”, be dismissive of such a lesson? Your narrative doesn’t fit with this postscript in the text.


#16

I thought about bringing this point up, but there are two historical questions that I am not sure of. I probably ought to know, but it’s a failing.

I thought the word “peasant” reflects land ownership systems that developed after Jesus died; eg: in Spain and Europe. That’s why I just used “peon”; eg: person of low rank, or skill in reference to American issues. Do you know the actual history of the word “peasant”?

The second confusing point is this: Every year Jewish families had to go to the temple and sacrifice a lamb and pay tithes. When the population hit tens of millions of Jews, the production lines were … um … massive. In various Jewish histories, Talmuds, etc. I have read several laws. Communities of Jews living outside Jerusalem would select one (or a very few) representative to tithe the money, produce, products,etc. required by law. They would represent their entire communities earnings for a year. By doing this, they relieved the elderly, and very small families, from making very difficult and dangerous trips to Jerusalem. Larger communities might send entire (respected) families to make the required offerings and they would be responsible for the elderly and severly indisposed people who couldn’t travel. eg: When Mary and Joseph sought Jesus for three days… most scholars say they were looking for him among their cousins ( a large family ).

So, even though you are right … there is a lot of wealth … I’m not sure that’s a good reason to believe the person who made the deals owned the wealth.

Perhaps you know more? Or maybe, you have time to do some reading?
Peace to you. :slight_smile:


#17

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