Synopsis of Parable:
A rich man had a steward who was accused of wasting the rich man's goods. So the king called the steward to give an account of himself But before this account, the steward called in the rich man's debtors and forgave them partially of their bills. The rich man commended the unjust steward for acting wisely.
Parable Given in Response to:
This parable was given after the Parable of the Prodigal Son(Luke 15:11-32.) to an audience while the Pharisees and scribes were muttered about Jesus.(Luke 15:1, 2.)
|↓ Rich Man||God||Luke 16:1|
|↓ Steward||Pharisee||Luke 16:1|
The Parable of the Unjust Steward
As presented in the King James Version of Luke 16:1-13
Luke 16:1And he said also unto his disciples,
Explanation of the Interpretation of Symbols
The Rich Man is God Back to Top ↑
There is a lot of confusion around this parable, so it would behoove everyone to be especially careful with our interpretations. Here, the rich man represents God.
The first objection that people raise is that most people think the rich man is dishonest, or otherwise evil, and that because of that, the rich man cannot represent God. Nothing in the parable says this, however. All we know is that the rich man had a steward, and that someone accused the steward of wasting the rich man's goods. In fact, the rich man did not even believe the accuser at face value, instead he gave an opportunity for the accused (the steward) to give an account of his stewardship. The only other thing we know is that the rich man then considered the steward's actions as wise. There is nothing in this parable that shows that the rich man was evil.
Even if there were things that made the rich man out to be evil, that still would not rule out God as an
interpretation. In the Parables of the Talents and Minas, the nobleman represents Jesus Christ, and yet the
unprofitable servants said of the nobleman,
Most denominations do not even try to interpret the rich man as anything. They do not address the subject and leave it blank. However, when Jesus explained his parables, he did so by using symbols, and as a central figure in the parable, the rich man must also be a symbol.
The Steward is a Pharisee Back to Top ↑
This interpretation will surely be surprising, however we have to be careful to note after Jesus gave this
parable, Luke records
The steward of a rich man is a person who manages the resources of the rich man. Upmost trust is required for this. This is the same position that the Levitical priesthood had, God entrusted them to the spiritual care of Israel, but as time went on, they became more and more horrid, and cared more about money. Then, the Pharisees, as an extension of the Levitical priesthood, cared more for money than God, which Jesus had identified many times already.(Matthew 23:14, 23; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47.) Jesus even says he would gather them together, but they would not have it!(Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34.)
The Pharisees and other fit this role perfectly. With this interpretation, we can now explain
why the Pharisees derided Jesus after this parable. They felt that they were the steward in the parable,
they felt that Jesus said they were going to be fired, they felt that Jesus said they were cheating God when
The most common interpretation of the steward is to say that the steward is a person in the kingdom of God.
This makes little sense, as it would result in Jesus encouraging people to gain money
unscrupulously."mammon of unrighteousness" Jesus denies this in other sayings, saying,
There are two additional things about the steward that should be acknowledged. First, a note on history. In the modern day, an employer will pay a salesman a salary plus commission for their work selling goods to other businesses. The commission and sales is typically (but not always) set, and for the more common things, the buyer could find out what the seller is gaining from the transaction. For instance, when someone buys a new phone, the seller may earn $50 commission. However, in Jesus's time, this was not the case. Instead, the steward would add his own commission on top of whatever his master would get. For instance, if he was selling a barrel of grapes for $50, he could increase the price to $70, and pocket the difference of $20. This was how many stewards in this line of work were paid.
When we later see the steward reduce the debts of many of the lord's debtors, we have to be careful not to apply our modern day cultural ideas to the first century. It could be that he was not cheating his master, but merely removing his portion of the sale, so as to make the debtors happier. Thus, the reason the steward would be called unjust would be in the original markup of the items. For the oil, it was 100%, and for the wheat, 25%.
This unjust markup would also be why the steward panicked. The king only called him to give an account of his goods, and yet the steward knew that if he had to do that, he would be fired. He then set about correcting them. In one context, this could be seen as correcting his own wrong, which God would surely appreciate, and be a moral that Jesus would want to teach.For what it's worth, this is more or less the Catholic teaching of this parable.
That brings us to our second point. The rich man did not think his servant was guilty. It was the steward
who came to that conclusion himself:
Jesus's message for this was,
However, interpreting the steward as a Pharisee, makes perfect sense when we consider these additional requirements. The priesthood ate the sacrifices that were given to God in the temple, and the Pharisees, continuing that tradition, also did the same. As previously discussed, the Pharisees enjoyed their money. Last, both Jesus and John the Baptist condemned them as hypocrites and vipers, similar to how the rich man in the parable commented on the difference between the people in this world and the children of light.
In Conclusion Back to Top ↑
The Parable of the Unjust Steward is probably the most difficult parable to understand. However, if you identify the symbols in the parable, and place it in the context of Jesus's audience, it becomes clear what the parable means. It represents the Pharisees who were around during Jesus's time. God was going to call them to account for what they were doing, and they instead killed Jesus to appease themselves and to try to be Roman. They charged Jesus with sedition, and sold him out to the Romans.(Luke 23:2.)
With these two symbols identified, it becomes trivial to identify the rest of the parable. For instance,
when the rich man said,
Likewise, as just previously discussed, the erasing of the debts is analogous to "selling out" Jesus to the Romans, so that the Romans are happy with Israel and let them continue their quasi-self-rule.
In taking this position, we avoid presenting Jesus as awkwardly telling his disciples to use unrighteous means to gain money to give to people to earn eternal life, a stance that is against some of Jesus's other sayings.