AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH February 5, 2012
A Presbyterian Church following the Bible without Qualification
and the Lord Jesus Christ without Compromise by Faith
THE UNJUST STEWARD PARABLE IN LUKE 16:1-13
THE POINT AND PURPOSE OF PARABLES
The path of pilgrimage in Christ is intensely interesting, gloriously fascinating, as truth always is, BECAUSE God is its heart, source and basis, and in Him it lives that others may know it, and He is utterly glorious, better to be known than all things, warmer than the warmest, more tender than the most perceptive, purer than spring waters, wiser than all human knowledge, its criterion and basis, the binder of all things with the LOGOS, the cause, reason and comprehending expression of God, sent incarnate as the Saviour, Jesus Christ, without whom man both is and shows himself lost.
Therefore, what has been left out in ways for Him to be found ? If you had a son who had all his life failed to see, and been born blind, and then it was found that there was a strangely simple rather than simply strange missing connection which was readily fixed, and the surgeon was there, ready to act: what then ? Would you not go to some lengths to inculcate into the mind of your son that despite the practice of all those years, he had now only to open his eyes!
If now he declined, saying that you were mocking him, would you not seek ways of helping him to realise, that sore though the issue had been in his mind these many years, yet sight was not a matter of mockery, but available ?
So here. Parables are one of those ways to help people to open their eyes; and to be sure, it is not God who is listless or apathetic in His searching for the lost, blindly stumbling as they go, whether in exasperation, bitterness and grief, or puffed with pride, pumped with self-will, scrutinising all things with the distemper of the doomed. Parables may awaken.
Parables in general are not intended to be theological expositions of finesse where every word is a container unit for some evocative aspect. They are specifically pieces of imagination; and in the parables presented by Jesus Christ, there were circumstances to accentuate this feature.
Why did He use them so much ? He declared that it was in view of the hardness of people's hearts that they were given so prominent a place (Matthew 13:10-17); for the illustrations being pointed and perhaps even exaggerated in impact - not precisely like a cartoon, but yet with humour on occasion, or shock, so they were known.
They could be seen to be devices to awaken and to bring perspective by artistic artifice into lulled, lolling or unruly hearts.
The implicit parable, or the point which would so readily have leant itself to parable, concerning a man who notes with distaste a splinter in your eye, and trying to remove it while harassed with a PLANK of wood jutting perilously from his own, as he turned his head to help you, is of this character (Matthew 7:1-6). It is hilarious and obviously exaggerated so that the blind might see! The sudden fantasy quickly evokes thoughts of the entire unreasonableness of much too forward criticism, and unfeeling verbal assault.
Thus man is challenged to recall his own attitudes, with realism bred of mirth and sharpened by conscience! He may even become aware of the trickery of Satan, the quirks of the psyche and the grandiose false assurance to which man may become so readily addicted. More, there is here the special case, religious prominence, in which the passion for good, if distorted by error, can become all the less compassionate and the more ludicrous, the more so when the entirely obvious, as in the case of Christ as God in the flesh, is yet fixedly ignored!
Again, what of the parable of the wheat and the weeds, with an enemy sowing his horrid weeds amid the crops (Matthew 13:34ff.), subtle and devious, so that all your effort may be spent not least on what is detrimental to your efforts, so misdirecting and tending to exhaust you, and confuse ? This has almost a cartoon-esque feeling. Yet it grips the emotions and alerts the mind, which is thus stirred itself to envisage the SORT of thing being exposed and the sort of subtly vicious danger being exhibited. Indeed, Satan can be vicious to the point of cynical burlesque, incensed odium and undeviating devotion to doom.
You see examples of this style of thing in war, as in Bomb Hunters, a recent work of journalist Sean Raymond, who from living in the British war zone, shows the Taliban, seeking to repel international forces, attempting to deliver Afghanistan from its ruthless and ferocious, woman-downgrading grip, as if these were mere possessions of men. In this war, there are thousands of planted bombs, to explode on you as you walk.
If a bomb disposal unit, where such things, implanted in the earth, remove one, two or three limbs from the agents of deliverance, leaving hundreds of partially destroyed human remnants, changes its procedure, then often secretly watching Taliban fighters proceed to work out ways to adapt to this, and disrupt them differently to bits of body or hunks, by making NEW methods of inciting explosion, trick by trick. It is unremitting as these predators seek to impose their ideas by force, in the modes of Al Qaeda, which objected to Israel being helped, preferring it to be destroyed. Here extremist assault is desired, on whoever or whatever arouses ire, and US desire to prevent more multi-murderous assaults on her land, is resisted with passion.
There are ever so many of these horrors in this world, and there is no answer but repentance and restoration on the part of those who, in this case, have come to conjoin - a policy spectacularly invoked by Obama - with SOME Islam against OTHER Islam, as if it would not lead to such an unsublime joke as arose with the chief murderer, Bin Laden. Here he was, protected under the shadow of a military camp in Pakistan, a nation then ostensibly a US ally against terrorism, and even a recipient of vast US funds, just a stone's throw away. Relativistic religion, not least, has led to this, will lead to more of it unless those concerned repent! It is necessary at times to incite understanding by parables. It is both kinder and better than bombs...
In such circumstances, with such purpose, at times almost like shock treatment to awaken the wilfully blind, as in Matthew 13, who SHUT their eyes, there is the endeavour to shock into awareness, to stop the normal bypass twist in the mind.
Thus the trappings of the parable may not be to the point, though at times they may in a magnificent manner extend it; but generally are mere extras, backdrop. This is by no means to imply that the parable is capable of ready misunderstanding, for the point of cartoons, to take a parallel case, is usually not at all difficult to discern and dissever from various possible additives.
If they happen to be there, well, a deeper smile may be forthcoming; but it is not a matter of systematic search for each point in each thing as in an almost specific challenge to the mind, upon finding the POINT, THEN to see any further applications OF THIS VERY POINT, which may happen to be in the parable. It may be rewarding, but such is not inherent in all parables, which have their own integrity.
THE PITH OF THE UNJUST STEWARD PARABLE
The basic meaning of some parables is intensely impactive. In that of the unjust steward, as in Luke 16, appears clear, remembering that there is usually one or a clear set of points, a particular perspective in view in a parable of this genre. It may focus tragedy, humour, folly or pity. Thus in the parable of the unjust steward, the central figure fails to be careful with his master's affairs, is found out, readied for dismissal, and then turns to set right the mess by masterly and immediate settling of all outstanding accounts, with discount for speed in payment. Driven by the horror of having to dig or beg, having limited alternative skills, he acts with resolution and speed, and the thing is set right, although of course, at that, with considerable loss. Yet the loss is contained. Make friends for yourselves with the unrighteous mammon, Christ applies the point, so that when you fall, they may receive you into everlasting mansions!
Thus the 'mammon' in view, though in point, money, is not limited to just this. It is the whole array and nexus of worldly occupation and labour, the meeting place with this world for anyone, be that person Christian or not. It is there, out there, and it readily works the devil's way, however vainly, and it notes.
The message in this Luke 16 parable then appears to be this. In ALL your dealings with this world, its ways, its requirements, its media, its meanings and meetings, vain as they may be, yet face them with an impeccable justice, unerring virtue, incontestable honour and honesty, immovable grace and wisdom, imagination and resource, so that whatever THEY may be, your attestation of life and personality, values and priorities, character and virtue may be of just acclaim, whatever some may think.
Then, with such a testimony in the tests of your life, when you go to heaven, those already there (for though mammon is faithless, many who have had to deal with it faithfully, will be in heaven, a remnant), those who have known you on this earth, will rejoice to see you, recalling the fragrance of your life, the consistency of your dealings, some the refreshing they may have had in considering what you did and the way that you did it. With joy they look to welcome you to be with them, in the Lord.
WHAT THE PARABLE DOES NOT SHOW
This parable however does not commend the dishonesty of the unjust steward, but rather that he showed insistence on dealing with wisdom when the trial came, putting things right as he might, and suffering no diversion from this motivation. EVEN he, though unjust, received a commendation in this world, for the improvement, the address, the rectifying activity.
How much more will you, if just, receive welcome from those who have found you so. Indeed, he had hoped to be welcome into the houses of those clients of his master who had debts now discounted; but the people of the Lord will be welcome the more gladly, into the eternal mansions where there is no debt, but gratitude romps, and there is no loss, but mercy flourishes.
Yet notice the implication. He not only acted, but did so under extreme constraint. In spiritual terms, in application, the message is that man should realise that he is not of upright standing before the incandescent righteousness of God, the more so when he does not even know, let alone follow the ways of God, and that like the steward, for all his pomp or pride or pretence or pretension or self-trust in his own ways, he is liable to dismissal before God, not only in time, but in eternity, for the indefinite and unredeemed future. Thus he should act with resolution, with single-mindedness to put right the accounts, the books, the realities of his life before God with speed and realism, repenting in ashes and receiving the Lord in His salvation with voracity, as one hungry, with joy as one relieved.
The parable does NOT ONLY show that it is all a matter of certain principles, though these are always in view with the Lord of creation and redemption. It is also implied, as an added application, that there is a matter of realisation, repentance and single-minded action, receiving the Lord's own righteousness as a gift of grace (as in Romans 5:17), through pure mercy. NOTHING is to stop you from finding the Lord (John 5:39-40) and having direct dealings with Him, leaving what is evil, or inadequate, or self-founded for His pardon and acceptance, knowing that the whole life has been mis-wrought, mistaken, misaligned and ONLY God is the basis of acceptance in and for Himself, from whose work of creation you have come, to whose work of redemption you go, panting for peace, provoked by inadequacy before God, satisfied with His word, as you come to Him. If with selfish motive the man so acted, how much more does the sinner sincerely seek the Lord whose Spirit is Truth.
After all, the steward was subject to impending, status quo, dismissal. It was not a time to miss opportunity, for that time was gone, and without action, it would be an ache of memory, not an act of remedy. To be sure, in the parable, the remedy was temporal, but in the meaning, the realm is spiritual; in the parable the motivation was in terms of the setting of the picture, but in the meaning it is in terms implied, of the God of all holiness.
The term, incidentally, for 'mansion' here is one which means dwelling place, and it is often used of the tabernacle in the Old Testament, as also when Christ in Hebrews 9:11 is said to have come in a more perfect tabernacle (that of His incarnation). Again, we find it in Revelation 21:3 where we read that the tabernacle of God is with men! He gives to them probationer bodies, then, arising in triumph over death because of purity and power, He provides the prototype for an eternal, constituted for everlasting life and victory in Christ. Then on His return (I Corinthians 15), this He apportions and to this He speaks, and it is to those in this format that speaks, and with them that He abides.
He abides with them, and they with Him (as in Revelation 7:13ff.), in the place He has prepared for each one (II Corinthians 5). The Lamb with the Father is forever praised, amid the glory of the Spirit, and those with whom He has His dwelling place, He is in Christ drawn with the cords of brotherhood, surveying with the discerning strength of the Shepherd.
Dishonesty is as far from all of this as is the mushroom cloud from health! The parable has nothing to do with 'grey areas', uncertain moral issues, confused ethics, combinations of surviving and reviving. These are in the mind only, and never is there ANY issue which has other ground at worst for compromise, than unwillingness to face reality, purity, holiness and its costs. That is just ONE of the reasons that you CANNOT be a disciple of Jesus Christ UNLESS you forsake ALL that you have, and follow Him (Luke 14).
Christian life: is an adventure, a glory, a challenge, a fight, as well as a thrust of light into darkness. It is not a personal safeguard opportunity to make more of yourself for your own satisfaction. Taking up your cross (Luke 14) and being crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) is NOT fulfilling yourself according to the flesh, but the END of lesser and intrusive ties. It is markedly present in disciples BECAUSE they refuse to cut corners, to weigh up moral problems, as if a government would breach an agreement which kept it in power for years, in order to survive a little longer yet. Such things are the opposite of this way. It is the recovery which is in point in this parable, not commendation of the disease! The willing of the will of God is a thrilling thing because He is pure delight. So follow not something hollow, but the God of all wisdom and glory. His way is incomparable. His worship is just.
Next Sunday, we proceed to the second part of the exegesis and application of this Parable.