05 April 2022
Most Bible readers are stumped by the eastern sagacity behind the narrative in the first half of Luke 16, the Parable of the Unjust Steward. That's because they are the target of the warning there, in that they tend to think too much like the Pharisees. In typical Hebrew fashion, you are supposed to catch onto the wider context to fill in the unstated principles. It's implied, but you have to bring it with you when you come to read it. The vast majority of western Christians simply have no background of teaching on the Hebrew context in which all of Jesus' teaching stands.
Both the rich lord and his steward are focused on what they consider the proper use of material wealth. It's all about providing for your physical comfort. You could be a complete fool, more like Esau, and surrender to your immediate gratification. Or, you could keep track of human behavior at large and be savvy in long-term considerations. The rich lord praised the good sense his wayward steward displayed in providing for his future against a radical change in employment.
But the point here is not what he did, buy why he did it, and what it appeared to accomplish. The rich lord would not have done anything different in the steward's place. Both men had the same focus, the same commitment to their values as worshipers of Mammon.
Jesus said that those who seek peace with God -- "sons of light" -- are distracted from their ostensible commitment to serving Jehovah's glory. They tend to get caught up in a system that is devoted to Mammon, and fail to consider how the provisions they have in this life can be used to accomplish their eternal goals. Obviously, the Pharisees were totally lost on this point. Their orientation was on the physical blessings, not the value-system that brings those blessings. They were all about the manifestation of shalom, not the higher meaning of peace with God.
Thus, Jesus is proposing a distinctly otherworldly orientation here. Don't just stumble along with it, as someone who wandered into this mystical kingdom of hearts without knowing what was going on. Rather, consciously engage the task of reorienting yourself. This is what was behind Jesus' response to the derision of the Pharisees. He warns them that the old Nation of Israel was coming to an end, that it had gone into a transition period with the rise of John the Baptist. With John and Jesus, the new Nation of Heaven was being proclaimed. The Covenant of Moses was being translated into the Covenant of the Messiah. It was turning things upside down, and people were struggling with how to make the transition, mistranslated as "forcing" their way into it in verse 16.
And yet, even in the midst of this transition, it was for sure that the Old Covenant Scriptures were more trustworthy than the existence of Heaven and earth. Yet, here the Pharisees were, transgressing one of the primary moral teachings of that Scripture. They were abusing the divorce provision as an excuse to cover their habit of trading wives like other men trade cows. The whole point of Moses' divorce teaching was to elevate the status of women in the nation, in contrast to the way women were treated in the neighboring societies. Moses' Law gave women a reciprocal legal ownership over their husbands, in some ways. God says men do have obligations to their wives.
And then Jesus left hanging the implication that these Pharisees were like the unjust steward. They were so focused on their physical comfort that, for all their savvy and success at accumulating wealth, they were completely missing the point of the Covenant. They honestly thought God was just like them, and that He admired their cleverness. They didn't realize that they were going to be the first people excluded from the Covenant of the Messiah.
If there is one thing we most need in our stumbling and crumbling world today, it's a laser-like focus on what really matters to the Creator. If we learn to view tribulation as an asset for exploitation, we stand in a far better position to gain what God has promised in terms of peace with Him. We cannot keep the world around us from worshiping Mammon and panicking when it turns out that Mammon is such a fickle and weak deity. What we can do is demonstrate the peace and security against turmoil that only our Father can grant.
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