The Dishonest Steward
17 September 2016
On Sunday we read the bible story Jesus told of the Dishonest Steward of a great man’s estate (Luke 16.1-13). A servant who, about to be sacked for dishonesty, went around to everyone who owed the great man money and deliberately cooked the books so they didn’t have to pay quite so much. An act which, Jesus’s story goes on to relate, the owner of the estate, surprisingly, then praises him for.
Praising the dishonest steward for losing him money in order to help others?
What’s that all about?
I wonder if we are all ‘dishonest’ in some way? I don’t mean criminally or immorally. I’m talking about the human condition. The condition we, as humans find ourselves after thousands of years of existence. After thousands of years of moving away from God, of seeking after worldly things and worldly values and no longer taking into account God’s needs and God’s structures for creation, for the world and for human society?
We are as ‘dishonest’ as lost sheep. Dishonest in this sense means being lost to our honest or true selves. In other words, acting in ways that contradict the truth of what it really means to be human in God’s world.
What does ‘honesty’ or ‘truth mean in this context? In the context of being participators in God’s Kingdom, and being stewards preparing one another and the world for the Kingdom which is to come?
Well, this is where the Dishonest Steward parable becomes particularly helpful.
Because, what the dishonest steward does, despite his dishonesty - and, yes, in an act of self-preservation - is look after his fellow human beings. He sorts them out. he takes some of the pressure of living away from them and takes them on his own shoulders.
The Gospel passage, among other things, is saying - to me at least - even in this crazy mixed up world, even in this mess where we can’t sometimes see the wood for the trees, where, sometimes - although we really don’t know it, aren’t even aware of it - we have lost our way. Even then, if we can offer on a regular and systematic basis one act of kindness, one act of grace towards our fellow human beings… that, then is a valuable and important part of God’s purposes. Albeit, perhaps, a tiny one. But it is better - far far better - than doing nothing at all.
One ‘honest’ act in our ‘dishonest’ human condition. One glimmer of the light of truth and Kingdom values in the dark worldliness that surrounds us and traps and beguiles us.
But, of course, as with our steward in our Gospel passage - this is not to ‘buy’ ourselves into God’s good books. It is clear that the steward is not doing this to ingratiate himself with his Master. If we start doing that, well, then it is kind of disingenuous. It is kind of dishonest. Because we are no longer doing that gracious act for the benefit of our fellow human beings, we’re doing it ultimately for ourselves.
Christ asks - and longs for - us to simply live to the benefit of one another - as best we can. Which, among other things, is what true Kingdom values consist of. Which is what will make a difference in the way the world is shaped - not just for today but for all eternity.
Mother Theresa was once visited by someone who stood and looked at the thousands upon thousands of sick, elderly, diseased and helpless people ranged tier upon tier on the terraces alongside the Ganges in Calcutta and explained: ‘Mother Theresa - The task is too enormous. Too vast. How can you cope with all this? Surely what you are doing is just a tiny drop in the ocean?’
To which Mother Theresa replied: ‘Ah, yes. But the ocean is made up of many drops.”