Vantage Point

From which vantage point you are viewing Jesus. Are you looking in from the vantage point of the Pharisees and the scribes; the sons of light? Well, then Jesus seems to be a downright sin monger, or, at the very least, a defender of the wretched and a harsh critic of the righteous. And one of those criticisms was their self-view; their self-righteousness; their view that they were the sons of light and therefore so much better than the wretched sinners, other wise known as the sons of this present age. And these two vantage points: the view of Jesus through Pharisaical eyes; and the view of the religious elite through Jesus’ eyes, may be at the heart of the parable of the unjust steward.

              The parable in Luke 16:1-8 is difficult and explanations are as varied as the opinions of Monday morning quarterbacks. When Luke compiled his account, this parable was not the beginning of a new chapter. Our minds are geared to think new chapter, new subject. But what if this is a continuation of the stories of chapter 15 which began with the Pharisees being all grumbly about Jesus welcoming and eating with sinners? This parable does begin with an introductory “But he was also saying to the disciples.” This may be Luke letting us know, not that the audience had shifted, but that the audience had expanded. The disciples were hearers of the other parables, to be sure, but Jesus wanted them to pay attention here.

              Jesus tells us of a wealthy man who received an accusation against his household manager. Being a household manager could involve various different responsibilities. We discover within the story that this man was responsible for keeping the financial books and he has been squandering the rich man’s money. The word “squandering” is the same word used in 15:13 describing the lost younger son’s life in the far country. A point of connection. This is more than a mismanagement offense. It seems likely that the household manager was a crook who was pocketing and squandering his employer’s wealth. The wealthy man called the manager in and said “What is this I hear about you?” According to Kenneth Bailey, this is the beginning of termination negotiations still used in the Middle East to this day. These negotiations can last days. But not here. The boss tells the manager to hand in the books. He is fired. And the crook doesn’t enter into negotiations; defending his innocence; blaming those under him or the debtors. In this story there is an in-between being fired and actual termination moment.

                And in this in-between moment the manager begins to reason. He knows that his reputation is ruined. He knows that losing his position most likely means destitution. He is not strong enough to dig ditches, which may reference all manual labor. He doesn’t want to become a beggar. These are his only options unless he does something quick. And then the plan hits him. The plan doesn’t seem to be about future employment. It seems to be a reliance upon reciprocity that will keep him from being homeless. He has a quick meeting; a meeting before anyone finds out that he has been let go. The two debtors appearing in the story probably represent a larger group. The two that are mentioned are told to quickly write down in the account book a significant reduction of what they owe. These debts could represent a loan or land rental. If it was land rental, the farms would have been large. And even though the percentage is different, the forgiven – or stolen (depending on your vantage point) – amount is the same value; and it is significant. When the master hears of it, he praises the manager’s shrewdness. Oh, you mean the shrewdness that robbed you? Okay just what exactly is Jesus’ vantage point here?

              The rest of verse 8 is most likely a Jesus-wrap-up of the parable. The sons of this present age are wiser in or among their own generation that the sons of light. What? I think it is all about vantage point. The Pharisees, as well as Jesus’ disciples, view sinners as the sons of this present age. The righteous are the sons of light. In the story the household manager is a scoundrel. But this scoundrel operates knowing that the only thing that can save him is the mercy of his master. The master could have had the man arrested. He had been terminated, after all. From the vantage point of the religious elite, Jesus represented a God who dismissed or praised sin; a God who allowed the wretched to rob from him. From the vantage point of the sinner, Jesus represented mercy; needed mercy. From the vantage point of Jesus? Those who know they need mercy are the wise ones. So, dismiss them as the sons of this present age if you want. But they are the ones who know they stand in desperate need of mercy. And, therefore, they receive it. Peace.