We have been studying the Gospel of Luke this summer. The parables
have proven difficult to difficult to wrestle with in spite of their familiarity.
Our core belief is that everyone has a right to interpret the Bible. In community
we can pool our insights and bring the whole group to a better understanding
of Jesus’ message.
Today’s axiom for Bible study is don’t let the editors tell you what to think.
Who added those subtitles that are in so many Bibles?–modern editors telling
us what to think. The explanations tacked on the end (vv. 8b -10) are ancient
editors telling us what to think. Let’s put those aside and just look at what
the parable says.
This is one of the few “undomesticated” parables. So many of the
others have been taught to us in a way that files off all the sharp
edges and makes the message compatible with conventional wisdom.
The shrewd manager may be less difficult because we do not have to
discard so much baggage in finding a meaning.
The manager is suddenly accused of squandering and given
notice. When he realizes his predicament he squanders the goods in
his own interest. For this the master praises him. (What about my
job?) So what we have is two kinds of squandering one gets you
fired and one gets you praised.
How does this look from the perspective of the manager? He’s
been strict with the accounts and maintained the expected
relationship between the master and his debtors and yet he gets fired.
When he throws out the rules and tries to incur favor with the
debtors the master approves.
How does this look to the debtors? First –who borrows 500
gallons of olive oil? Who borrows a thousand bushels of wheat?
Jesus is clearly grossly exaggerating for effect here. What master
could have so much surplus to loan? There is only one. When the
manager writes off some of the debt the borrowers find a new hope
that they may someday get out of debt .
I don’t think that it’s a stretch to equate the master with God.
I think it’s fair to assume that Roman occupation of Israel was
seen as a sign of God’s disfavor. There were several explanations of
why Israel was suffering this disfavor. Jesus offered a different
reasoning as to why Israel was experiencing God’s disfavor. His
take is that the failure of justice and the failure of compassion are the
reasons. If we see the God’s “goods” as Mercy then the parable
appears in a whole new light. There are two explanations for God’s
displeasure and there are two ways in which God’s bounty of mercy
can be squandered. Being parsimonious with forgiveness is
squandering God’s mercy. The debtor’s have “borrowed” an
outrageous bounty of the masters wealth. The master is content
when he sees that the debts are forgiven—that the wealth is not
coming back to him. Like the manager Jesus took it upon himself to
distribute the masters goods without any special permission. Jesus
saw that being profligate with forgiveness will bind people to God.
In that sense the “master” is getting back more than he loaned out.
Thanks to Rev. Catherine, Decia, Mary K. for key insights.