The Wise Steward

The math in this familiar story turns the traditional understanding on it's head and explains why Jesus would regard the steward's practices as model behavior.

Luke 16:1-13

FA 1He said a proverb to his disciples. There was a rich man who had a steward and they accused him that he was wasting his wealth. 2His master called him and said to him, What is this that I hear concerning you? Give me an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be a steward for me. Luke 16:1-23The steward said to himself, What should I do? For my master will take away from me the stewardship. I cannot dig and I am ashamed to beg. 4I know what I will do so that when I leave the stewardship they will receive me in their houses. Luke 16:3-45He called the debtors of his master 1 by 1 and said to the 1st, How much do you owe my master? Luke 16:56He said to him, 100 measures of butter. Luke 16:6aHe said to him, Take your note, sit down quickly and write 50 measures. Luke 16:6b7He said to another, You, what do you owe to my master? Luke 16:7aHe said to him, 100 bushels of wheat. Luke 16:7bHe said to him, Take your note and sit down and write 80 bushels. Luke 16:7c8The master praised the unjust steward because he had done wisely, for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. 9I also say to you use this earthly wealth however acquired to make friends so that when it is gone they will receive you and you will have everlasting habitation. Luke 16:8-910He who is believable with little is also believable with much and he who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. 11Therefore if you are not believable with the wealth of iniquity who will believe that there is any truth in you? 12If you are not found believable with what is not your own who will give you what is your own? Luke 16:10-1213No servant can serve 2 masters, for either he will hate the one and like the other or he will honor one and despise the other. You cannot serve god and wealth. Luke 16:13 (Luke 16:1-13 BRB)


100+50+100+80+2 = 332 = Exodus


Exodus is about the oppression of the poor by the wealthy. It's about injustice. It's about taking advantage, ripping off, and getting rich at another's expense. The situation is fixed when Egypt is plagued and the poor are delivered. With this general understanding of Exodus as the backdrop the traditional understanding of the story of the wise steward is seriously challenged. So let's flip the scenario, make it Exodus like, and see if the parable makes more sense.

What if the rich master in the story is a corrupt individual? What if he makes his money at the expense of others? What if the gripe the other stewards and the master have against the wise steward is that he's not ripping off the customers, he's not with the "program?" What if, at the threat of losing his job, what the wise steward does is not rip off his boss, but slash the excessively overpriced items to a fair price as he has been doing all along?

The best clue that this is what's happening are the numbers themselves. The first customer is given a 50% reduction. The second is given only a 20% reduction. Isn't the wise steward being unfair in the difference of amount of reduction? Isn't he just playing favorites? I would now say no. Probably some things were overpriced by a lot and some by a little, so the prince of some things were corrected dramatically and the price of others only a little. So, in other words, the wise steward is being as fair as possible in every transaction, and not behaving underhandedly at all.

This is why Jesus lifts up the wise steward as a model. This is how Jesus thinks people should conduct themselves. The alternative, or traditional take, is not very good. It's never made sense for Jesus to uphold deception and stealing, even from an about to be ex-boss. It does make sense for Jesus to praise someone like a Robin Hood, someone who does the right thing when pressured to do the wrong thing.

Exodus is about standing up to the injustice. It's about little Moses going to big pharaoh and saying, God says, you're out of line. Now, let my people go. It's this storyline in Exodus that opens our eyes to what Jesus was really conveying in his telling of the parable of the wise steward. The wise steward is like little Moses and the rich master is like big pharaoh.