In my Merriam Webster dictionary one definition for “prudence” is “shrewdness in the management of practical affairs.” So prudence can be a skill or talent that of itself is neither moral nor immoral. It all depends upon what the nature of the affair might be. Unfortunately the affair in Jesus’ parable involves a number of participants who seem to be questionable/bad individuals.
We begin with the steward who has been reported to the master for “squandering his property” and “can no longer be my steward.” It is wrong to be irresponsible in the job someone contracts to do. It might be the result of laziness, bad judgment, theft, etc. It seems this steward is cheating his master out of the total harvest the owner is entitled to receive from his property. And that’s wrong!
Take the two debtors who are given egregious discounts by rewriting their bills of sales with twenty and fifty percent reductions. This is cooperation in thievery. If something looks too good to be true, it most likely is. Therefore it would be wrong to go along with the ruse knowing that someone is being unjustly deprived of their property. These debtors are accepting this unpaid-for property so the steward’s future comfort and security is guaranteed. And that’s wrong!
The master, recognizing the scam that is being perpetrated against him, actually praises the culprit for the immoral but “shrewd management of these affairs.” To champion the cause of evil is to make oneself a cooperator in the evil and a promoter of the scandal for all who know about the unethical dealings. And that’s wrong!
Negative parables showing the dangers of evil sometimes teach a more forceful lesson than those that praise goodness. The moral Jesus draws from this parable is: “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” in dealing with God himself. Worldly prudence is dealing with what pleases the eyes, ears and appetites and has an attraction a thousand times more magnetic than spiritual prudence. Was Jesus perhaps thinking of someone like Judas and what “worldly prudence” would lead him to do? Maybe Jesus wanted his disciples as well as ourselves to understand that save for the grace of God there goes anyone of us.
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