One of the interesting features of this parable known as that of the unjust steward (Luke 16) is that all the principle characters are essentially dishonest. The steward cooks the books, and those who owe the master money to be received on account are all too eager to collude with him; it appears at the first that the master is convinced that the steward is merely fecklessly incompetent in his exercise of stewardship. But when it does become clear how thoroughly corrupt the steward was in handling the accounts, the owner found himself expressing wonder and awe at the creativity of the steward. While most of us may hold the belief that the world actually works like that, we are still left with a question.
That question of course, is what was our Lord and Savior trying to get across in the telling of this parable? Is our Lord suggesting that as long as the end view is the kingdom of God that the desired good of the end justifies whatever means that we use to achieve it? Is he saying that a little graft and corruption is not bad if the desired goal is good? Probably not.
It seems to me that this parable is not so much about graft and corruption as it is about those sayings about stewardship that form the last part of the gospel. Those sayings are these:
“Whoever is faithful in little is faithful in much. Whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much…”
“If you have not been faithful with dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”
“No one can serve two masters, for he will either hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
“You cannot serve God and mammon.”
What I like about the annual focus that we have– only once a year on stewardship– is that the theology of stewardship holds up for us how it is possible to serve God through the ways in which we choose to use our wealth, our possessions. While it is true that you cannot totally serve two masters, it still remains possible for you to use mammon—wealth—in the service of God and for the spread and extension of his kingdom. But the basis of it remains our theme for stewardship for the year: All that I am and all that I have is a gift from God. Stewardship is my act of giving in thanksgiving for the blessings I have received at God’s hands.
The theology of stewardship sees the use of our possessions as a tool. And it is a tool not just for raising money for the church (although that’s important), but it is a tool for teaching us something about:
-The transitory nature of the things that we possess (they don’t last forever)
-The importance of the eternal, less temporal values in life with the recognition that true happiness has to spring from within, because true happiness cannot be found in what we have.
So it is true that Saint Paul’s needs us to be good stewards and to take the call to stewardship seriously because we have the fiduciary responsibility of caring for what we have received. But it is also true that we need the experience of being stewards so that we might learn about those interior values that spring up into eternal life.
With all of the sayings about being stewards in the Bible, there is always a solemn caution. That is, the reminder that we not to take for granted the gifts God has given, and that we not become complacent either in our giving or in our thanksgiving.