Monday, September 12, 2016

But Jesus Wants Me to Cheat!

Okay, I really don't believe this and I would guess you don't either.

But if you took a literal reading of the parable of the dishonest steward from Luke 16:1-13, this might be your conclusion.  This parable has a manager of accounts who is being dismissed from service because of his incompetence.  He then proceeds to cheat his master by reallocating the accounts so as to provide himself favor among colleagues after he is let go.

Having a story about someone who cheats to procure favor is not that unusual in the human experience.  What is unusual is the reaction of his boss in the story.  He is actually praised for his craftiness!

Jesus then sums up the story with a real head-scratcher in verse 9 (NRSV):
"And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes."
Jesus is not telling you to acquire ill-gotten gains but that would be the literal interpretation of what he said.

This story shows us as much as any verses in the Bible that all of us bring a lens of interpretation to scripture.  United Methodism gives us a good tool in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral for theological interpretation.  While John Wesley did not actually use this term or express it systematically like this, Wesley scholars such as Albert Outler in the 20th century noted that these were the methods that Wesley employed for his own interpretation.

So to interpret this scripture by using the Quadrilateral, we would use scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

An obvious scripture reference might be "Thou shalt not steal."  As one of the ten commandments, this sets in our minds that Jesus must be talking figuratively here.

Christian tradition refers to the teachings of the Church throughout history.  We might look at Wesley's notes on this particular passage as a part of our tradition.   Wesley's take on verse nine is more spiritual in nature rather than a literal reading.

Our reason allows us to see that taken as a literal story, it makes no sense.  No business owner would ever praise a servant for embezzling from him.  And those with whom he cut a deal wouldn't hire him because they know he's dishonest.  It would also likely keep them from being able to do future business with the rich owner.  So our reason moves us to look for a deeper, more subtle meaning.  We can see at first glance that this is not as cut-and-dried as the Good Samaritan.

Part of the common folklore concerning education
is that when we cheat, we are only cheating ourselves.
This could be seen loosely as tradition or
one might also say it falls under reason or experience.
Finally, our experience refers to Christian experiences that we've had of God's grace in our lives.  However, since we are believers in preceding grace, it becomes difficult to separate secular and religious movements in our lives.  I know what it is to be cheated.  It was not an experience that I would seek to emulate toward others as an ethical or moral person.

So we can surmise that this parable means something deeper.  Jesus doesn't want us to cheat.  Many think that this parable goes in line with those from chapter fifteen: lost sheep, lost coin, lost son/brother.  We see from these that God's economy of grace is based on God's generosity rather than merit. What if we interpret this particular parable in this light?

I'll be preaching on this in worship this Sunday (for better or worse)!  If you can't join us at 8:30, 10:50 or 11 am, you can catch it online through Facebook live at 11 or find the video on our church page after the service ends.

In Christ,


Picture used under the Creative Commons license via

No comments:

Post a Comment