Parable of the unjust steward

This was yesterday’s gospel and I don’t get it. My late priest friend preached on this once and said something about it but I forget what he said.

Maybe that this shows how much care people take of their physical well-being in comparison to their spiritual well-being?

I don’t get it either.

Does the employer really praise the steward for cheating him yet again?

And how is this an example for the life of faith?


I find this a difficult one as well, and I disagree with a lot of interpretations. I think keys are Origen noting that while praising wisdom can be good, it can also be bad, recalling Genesis iii (The Serpent was the most subtle of beasts); and V. Bede noting that this parable is part of a series of four parables that Jesus tells to the Disciples as the Pharisees are listening: Luke 15 and 16.

  1. Lost Sheep.(One Sheep Lost then Found of One Hundred)
  2. Lost Grotes (Silver Pennies) (One Grote Lost then Found of Ten)
  3. Prodigal Son (One Son Lost then Found of Two)
  4. Unjust Steward (One Soul Lost of One).

The first three are about the soul which is lost and then found, and returns to the faith and the Church, and the fourth is about the soul that is lost and stays lost. So I think the parable should be read “straight”, it’s not directly about the fact that we are just stewards of goods, or that we should relieve the debts of others (both of which are covered better elsewhere in the Gospels IIRC), it’s about a bad man, who cheated his boss to ensure his own security, and subsequently was praised for it by that very boss.

So the issue is why would the rich man praise his thieving steward?

The rich man praises his steward for acting unjustly to better himself because the rich man himself must have obtained his riches unjustly and thus recognizes the steward as being of the same class of persons as the rich man. Thick as thieves, as it were. In a sense then, this parable is a fun-house mirror of the parable of the prodigal son, the father in the latter parable, praises the son for his humility and acceptance of responsibility and seeking reconciliation the rich man in the former, praises the steward for his audacity and cunning in furthering his iniquity.

I think Luke 16:15 “And he said to them: You are they who justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is high to men, is an abomination before God.” supports this as the praise of the rich man is praise for that which is “high to men”: videlicet, the attainment of money and security by any means necessary. Such a love of money is an “abomination before God.”

(Parenthetically, I note that allegorically, one can imagine that the rich man is Satan, who of course would praise the sinner, for getting even deeper into sin.)

Luke 16:13 “You can not serve two masters…You cannot serve God and Mammon” explains the most confusing passage in this section: Luke 16:9 with the reference to befriending the Mammon of Iniquity and ending up in the Tabernacle of Eternity (direct Latin translation).

I would suggest Christ is saying: you might as well go “all in” (as the poker players would have it) if you’re going to follow the example of the Unjust Steward and focus on gaining money and security in this world. That gain will inevitably happen in part through some unjust means (even if also happens in a lesser or greater part via legal, or otherwise “just” means), but no matter how small a part is unjust, it will cost your immortal soul.

Here we see that the Parable is the Fun House Mirror of the first two parables, where we rejoice of finding one lost sheep of ninety-nine, or one coin of ten. One unjust action out of hundred, or one unjust action out of ten, is enough to entirely soil the person who seeks riches soul (c.f. Aggeus 2:14-15, one touch of the unclean can defile the whole)

The reference to the everlasting tabernacle/everlasting dwellings/eternal dwellings is not a happy ending. I think Psalm 48 (49 in KJV/NAB) is useful for explaining that term.

As in Psalm 48:12 (49:12 in KJV/NAB), we see a similar line actually referring to the Sepulchers of the unjust or Hell. The Latin for Psalm 48:12 is “Et sepulchra eorum domus illorum in aeternum, tabernacula eorum in progenie et progenie; vocaverunt nomina sua in terris suis.” And that for “Et ego vobis dico: facite vobis amicos de mammona iniquitatis: ut, cum defeceritis, recipiant vos in aeterna tabernacula.”

So again, Christ is not telling us to befriend the Mammon of Iniquity, he is telling us that we can not serve him and the world. We must pick and choose one, there are no half-measures.

Finally, I would note that one obvious alternative interpretation (which I don’t have the time or room to explore) is that this Parable though spoken to the Disciples was specifically directed at the listening Pharisees. I note that the Pharisees immediately chime in after this Parable, unlike the previous three. That is, perhaps the unjust stewards are the Pharisees themselves, the Rich Man is God or Christ (and the commendation is sardonic or some form of aggressive exaggeration) , and the debts being cheated on are some aspect of the Mosaic Law or temple rites, that I’m unfamiliar with. That is to say, this might be a Parable that opens up if you have detailed understating of the Pharisees and their practices at the time of Christ’s ministry, and in particular their hypocrisies that offended him; barring a post on that, I’m going to continue to take it at face value as noted.

As always, these words are just my opinion, and I am just some guy on the Internet.

Yours in Christ,


I think its a story of amazement of what lengths people will go to to lie, cheat, and steal.
When someone is very good at cheating others out of their goods and getting away with it they have put a lot of effort and study into how to do it and avoid any consequences.

The contrast is also astounding, not nearly as many people are working so hard for their spiritual well being. Even half the effort, energy, and thought would mark a man as a great saint, but there are far more successful scoundrels than great saints.

I always thought it was like this:

The cheating steward is showing the idea that even faulty forgiveness can be a plus to the one doing the forgiving. So how much more powerful would be real (God’s) forgiveness?

Because the steward doesn’t really have full power in this. He’s not really the one who should be forgiving this person’s debts. The debts are owed to the ruler. But because the master has allowed the steward temporary power the steward has wisely chosen to use that power while he still can.

So it is with God and us. I mean we can’t really forgive other people. We don’t really have that full spiritual power. But if we use the temporary power that we have. The temporary power like the wicked steward had been given by his master. Well then even miserable sinners like us should be able to see how forgiving other people will give us a greater possible boost over the long term. Because if we forgive people in this life while we have that temporary power to do so. While we’re still clinging to that temporary power. When we are finally cast off (dead) we will have earned that person’s good will. And it might come in handy for us later. It might be the only thing that saves us in the end. Because those people we forgave while we were alive might pray and intercede for us. They might also defend us a bit in the last judgement.

Or something.



For the steward to obtain the gratitude of the debtors some assumptions have to be made:

  1. This is not a forgiveness of debt by the Master. This is purely an act by the steward to reduce the indebtedness of the debtors. Therefore the gratitude is owed to the steward, and the steward need to make it clear to the debtors otherwise it defeats the purpose of this scam.
  2. The action of the steward has legal force and will stick. Otherwise, the Master would just claim that the steward has no authority to reduce those debts and reinstate the debts. Alternatively, the Master has no way to reconstruct the accounts and these documents are his only proof.
  3. The debtors probably are in cahoots with the steward, relying on point 2 above. Otherwise gratitude is owed to the Master for his generosity.

A. Jesus is not praising the steward. He is praising his craftiness. Craftiness in what? Craftiness in using someone else’s money to make himself look good or accumulating personal IOUs (favours) to be made use of later. If the steward was using his own money, then there is nothing to be praised, just his generosity. I don’t see anything wrong in giving credit to an enemy or opponent cleverness, even if it is detrimental to us. A worthy/formidable opponent as some would call it.

B. I have no idea how to explain verse 9, especially on the “when it fails” bit. What does the “it” refers to? I can’t read Greek so I don’t know whether “it” refers to the unrighteousness mammon or something else. But it is strange referring to mammon as failing. How do riches fail? The “eternal habitations” is also puzzling. How would making such friends guarantee “eternal habitations”? You are lucky if they remember that they owe you favors and up to them to consider whether to do you a good turn or not. It can not be compelled. If those debtors refused to entertain the steward later, the steward is unlikely to go back and tell his ex-master what he has done. The “eternal” is a strange qualifier.

C. I don’t think this is a Robin Hood case, stealing from rich to help the poor. Stealing is wrong. Period. But if one is already bad, doing some good with ill-gotten gains is better than doing more bad. Like the Pope justifying contraception for a HIV pimp.Crooks can still give to charity. Gangsters can be harsh on their victims and enemies but could be caring towards others. Does Robin Hood deserve “eternal habitations” (whatever that means)?

This is a tough parable to explain. For me it is verse 9.

The Douay Rheims has a better reading. The line is “when you shall fail” not “when it fails”

Luke 16:9 And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity; that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings. (Challoner Revision, ODR is Tabernacles).

Note that technically, and as I’m sure you’re aware, in the Latin “you shall fail” (defeceritis) and you in “they’ll receive you” (recipiant vos) are actually the second person plural which in English is “y’all” or “ye” or (if a direct object or in a prepositional phrase) “yourselves”. I really can’t fathom why the NAB would translate the you as “it”. To be fair, I also can’t explain why Gregory Martin didn’t translate you as “yourselves” or “ye” in this particular instance (as the KJV did), as seems to be his (and the KJV) usual practice, perhaps someone who is fluent in Latin might have a better idea.

Again, IMHO, this parable is best understood as a contrast to the preceding three, that a focus on the material world leads to sin (the steward cheating his master to assure his security in this world) and that one sin in ninety-nine good acts will corrupt the whole, so might as well “make friends with the mammon of iniquity”, because you’re going to Hell, anyway. While the parable is directed to all listeners (as noted) I do get the feeling from line 14 that this section 9-13 is particularly directed to the listening Pharisees, and that they’re aware that it is directed at them, thus their immediate rejoinder.

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