He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ 3 And the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations. 10 “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they scoffed at him. 15 But he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. 16 “The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void. 18 “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. 19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’” (Revised Standard Version)
Based on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Great Lent, Sunday of the Steward), the following are suggested themes for sermon topics:
The legendary and famous parable of the unjust steward, from ancient times until today, has been one of the more troubling and controversial passages in all of the Gospels. Theologians and Church Fathers of all Christian traditions have wrestled with its seemingly contradictory message of condoning fraud and criminal business practices. What the Church has inherited, then, are numerous interpretations as to what message Jesus was trying to convey through this parable.
In the story, a steward has not been responsible with his master’s affairs and property. The master, in turn, instructs the steward to get his books together before his dismissal. To secure his future, the steward finalizes his books through questionable business practices by discounting the debts owed to his master, but in the process, the steward makes friends with those who owed his master by earning their gratitude. When the master finds out what his steward did, rather than further accuse him, he commends his clever ingenuity, even though he would be losing money! One can clearly see the internal difficulties and thus, the challenge in interpreting this parable.
In Jesus’ time, there were those who claimed to belong to the people of God but proved to not be good stewards of what he entrusted to them. They excluded and restricted people, demanded and extracted from them, and wasted those resources on themselves rather than show mercy to those in need. Perhaps the message is that the children of the light (the Church, the people of God) are not as diligent or committed to their mission and calling as are the children of the world (the Pharisees) in their pursuit of earthly goals.
The steward was concerned for his material future, those things that are highly esteemed among humanity: money, power, position, and praise. As Christians, as the Church, we should be concerned with the Kingdom of God, storing up treasures in heaven. How do we do that? We use our wealth, the resources given to us by God, for those in need, for good works. Everywhere Jesus went, the Kingdom of God was at hand, and everything he did was the coming of his Kingdom. And so to be a citizen of his Kingdom is simply to live as if Jesus is our King who gives us his wealth to use for his purposes. As St. John Chrysostom preached,
The Scripture says, “Deprive not the poor of his living” (Sirach 4:1). To deprive is to take what belongs to another…By this, we are taught that when we do not show mercy, we will be punished just like those who steal.
Are we trustworthy with what God has given us? Do we view our earthly resources with an eternal perspective? Have we put our treasures in places where our heart will follow, which will then transform our priorities to outshine the children of the world? Christ said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” This does not mean our treasure will come as a result of our deepest thoughts and desires. Rather, our treasure (earthly resources, material stuff) controls our thoughts, desires, and priorities. In other words, whether or not we care for the poor and needy, we are told to give to them out of our wealth, what we own. In time we will be transformed, we will care. Our heart will be where our treasure is, just as Jesus said.
What do some of the voices from the Armenian Church tradition have to say about the parable of the Unjust Steward?
Nerses Lambronatsi (1153-1198)
How does our account stand with God? What do we owe our Master? We owe Him in both body and soul, which in the parable are respectively symbolized as wheat and oil. Concerning the harmful things the body has enacted, if we cannot change our activities all at once, at least give up a portion. Even if it is moderate, initiate repentance and change your life by practicing good works, so that you will eventually become stronger in goodness. As for the soul, Christ has given us commandments to not be angry, to not harbor resentment, to not gaze with lust, to not be arrogant, and to not make our heart a storehouse of evil things. If you cannot give them up entirely, at least desist from half of them, so the debt will only be half as large. As the body and soul move toward higher forms of goodness, the remaining debts will be erased in due time. Using the same resources that we have unrighteously managed and accumulated by way of depriving the poor, obtain friends by returning to the poor the profit we made at the expense of their suffering. This is the honest effort of repentance that God praises.
If we prove faithful in little and become friends with the poor through charity, God will entrust to us eternal treasures, the riches of God. If we prove to be unrighteous in little, stingily scraping together possessions for ourselves, that will be reflected in our relationship with God. Our knowledge of Him will be meager scrapings, because we haven’t invested it and increased it by sharing it with others, by loving our Master first and foremost. May the steward within each of us encourage us to begin a life of repentance and charity, to decrease our debts to our Master by using our resources, our body and soul, for the benefit of others and for the adornment of our eternal home that awaits us.
Archbishop Malakia Ormanian (1841-1918)
The landlord is God and the steward is humanity. But the focus should not be to compare every aspect of the landlord and the steward with God and humanity, only the steward’s ingenuity and the fact that he makes provisions for himself by means of the landlord’s possessions. The general principles of the parable concern the use of the world’s goods.
The world is God’s possession and humanity is its caretaker, or steward (see Genesis 2:15). Just as the landlord’s possessions are in the hands of his steward, who manages them in order to secure a future, God has gifted us with creation so that we, as an act of worship and service, might make good use of it now and for our eternal future. And so the purpose of the parable is to teach us that we are obliged to care for the well-being of our neighbor, to show mercy by using whatever goods of the world come into our hands. How are we using creation to serve the world, God, and His Church? Do we prayerfully use our resources, God’s gift to us, to proclaim the Gospel? If we are not faithful in temporary things (unrighteous mammon), neither will we be in permanent, or eternal things (see Luke 16:10).
Catholicos Paken Guleserian (1868-1936)
Use human wisdom for what is good in order to secure eternal blessings. It is clear from Christian teaching, that we may not use ungodly methods in business, work, or any other kind of service. To use our talents and abilities as we wish is to be unfaithful and unaccountable to God, our friends, the Gospel, and even to us. We are, however, as children of the light, obliged to be shrewd in the freedom of Christian life (see Galatians 5:1, 13). Responsible with the freedom to love and serve one another, each of us, at every moment, is directed with the eternal warning to give the account of our stewardship.
What does that mean specifically? At every turn, we should give the account of our inner life, family life, prayer life, social life, and civil life. We should be always be securing our future and ready to give account of our career, words, how we loved God and others and served the Church, all of our Christian obligations. What are we doing with the time God has given us? How have we strayed from the Gospel? What things, people, or activities do I place before God? Is God really first priority, the center of my life, or just a category, where I pursue and live out my faith at my own comfortable pace? What must we do as a parish, as individuals, to arrange our affairs in such a way that our accounting will be worthy of the Gospel’s commendation? With prayer and God’s help, what must I do to hear the words of Jesus,
Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master. (Matthew 25:21)