Parable of the unrighteous steward
Mammon of unrighteousness
Commentary on Luke 16:1-9
26th Thursday after Pentecost
Part of the indescribable delicacy of Scriptures is when unrighteous people, actions or things are used to describe righteousness or teach how to become righteous. This always reminds me of man’s complex nature.
The simple meaning of the parable is that we must not be stingy, and must distribute our wealth to the poor, and as is always the case I our Lord’s discourse, there is also something deeper here, which should make our zeal to be generous even greater.
We are capable of stupendous acts of holiness and also fiendish evil. Both possibilities exist and even flourish in the same man! God is simple – He is only good, but we are complex – we are good and bad. Salvation is to become simple – only good – but as we grow to this perfection, we must use imperfect and even evil things to achieve our goal. We must turn our evil into good. I think this is why there are so many examples of the “mammon of unrighteousness” being used to holy purpose.
Dostoevsky, especially, among Christian authors seems to have understood this dichotomy, how man is good and evil, but even the evil can be turned into good. His crowning achievement in this regard is Sophia, the prostitute, in “Crime and Punishment”.
Today we have before us a lazy indolent man, the unjust steward. He had wasted his Lord’s goods, and was soon to be cast out. Being a lazy man, he had not learned any other trade, and he was too soft to dig (work hard) and too proud to beg.
Does not this describe our condition?
We are lazy and indolent – if we say this in our prayers we had best believe it, because it is true. We have wasted our Lord’s goods, the oil of the holy Spirit given to the 10 virgins, the talents given to the servants, the vineyard given to the husbandmen.
What are we to do? We must be like the steward, and act as he put it, “quickly”. This is an urgent matter! We must find every opportunity to turn our evil into good.
The Lord praised the steward, not because of his indolence, or incompetence, but because of his repentance, which is symbolized by his crafty use of his Lord’s money. There is not only delicious irony in his actions, but also a lesson.
We have no excuses. So we are sinners; this does not excuse us from doing everything we can to do good, to become good. We are stewards of all that God has given us. We own nothing.
1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. 2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. 3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. 4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. 5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. 7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. 8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. 9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. (Luke 16:1-9)
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009[U1] . St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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