The Parable of the Dishonest Steward intrigues me. As I reflected on it this week, I wondered what it has to say to us in our times. We are frustrated by story after story of dishonest money managers in the banking and investment systems of our economy. What does Jesus have to say about this? Is he saying that a shrewd money manager is a good example for us to follow even it means being dishonest and putting our self interests before those of others? No, according to the bible commentaries I read, Jesus used an example of a dishonest person to make a point about our stewardship of God’s gifts to us. While the dishonest steward sought to ingratiate himself to the debtors to serve his own interests, he cheated the master. In this story, God is the master and it’s not money that is the problem here, it is the way we use money to gain influence and power that God doesn’t like. We can use money righteously or unjustly and God wants us to know the difference.
Clearly, we can look good to a lot of the people of the world when we use money shrewdly. The bank executives who shrewdly set up bad loans and sold bad investments made billions for themselves and left others holding empty bags. Very little is being done about it because not only are some of the big banks “too big to fail,” some of the big bankers are “too big to jail.” Jesus would say that this type of stewardship of God’s money is not only dishonest, it is wicked and unjust. But his message to us in the parable is not about this kind of wickedness and what he is going to do about it. This message is to us, the children of the light, and what we do with our money to demonstrate our honesty. Jesus is not surprised that the children of the world seem to be better at managing money than the children of light. But he tells us this story so that we will become wise enough to do better God’s way. All money is God’s money and we need to demonstrate that we are good stewards of it in doing God’s work. Why should we let the unjust stewards tell us that we don’t know how to manage money? We need to show the world a better way.
I do not know the solution to the problems in our economy right now. But I do feel that Jesus calls Christians to point out the injustices in our economic system and the wicked ways we use money. We can call for justice by demanding that those who have broken laws be fined or even go to jail because of the unjust ways they used other people’s money. But what about the rest of us who use an unjust system to our advantage and not for God’s work? We are all guilty of dishonest stewardship. When we use money to gain power and influence over others, we are dishonest to God even if we aren’t breaking any laws. When we make decisions regarding money that are based on self preservation just because the system allows us to do so, we are dishonest to God even if we don’t directly cheat someone. When we don’t address the needs of the poor, we are being dishonest to God even if we are otherwise good people.
Jesus tells Christians a lot of stories about money management in the Kingdom of God. At this time of stewardship drives, we are called to demonstrate financial wisdom and honesty. We are called to recognize that our money comes from God and all that we have is really not our own, but God’s gifts to us to further a spiritual agenda, not our personal worldly goals. We are to do God’s work by using money justly, not be controlled by money. To be an honest steward is to give back to God all that God entrusts to us.
This whole system of stewardship to God is very different from the shrewdness of this world. There are those who place all of their confidence in the system of this world. They trust it because they can make it work for them. Christians need to put their trust in God and gain wisdom and confidence from doing God’s will through generosity. And we need to trust that this does work for us through God’s grace. I am the first to say that it is difficult. But unfortunately, when we give into fear and hold back from helping others because the economy threatens us, we are being dishonest to God. That is where I am right now. I am struggling with increasing my giving to others because I fear that I can’t afford it. But I know how much God has given to me and I know I could give more. If I am really honest with myself and with God, I have no other option but to trust in the Lord and entrust everything I have to God’s mercy. So I am praying that I will gain the kind of wisdom that will give me the confidence to be more generous.