Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lessons from parable of the unjust steward

The parable of the unjust steward is one of the more confusing and difficult-to-understand of Jesus’s parables, but when you get right down to the bottom, it can be very helpful to us as a lesson of stewardship.

And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. (Luke 16:1-19)

In this parable, a steward hears he is going to be called on the carpet for waste and he will probably be thrown out of his job, so he comes up with a strategy to smooth his way out and ingratiate himself with his master’s debtors by forgiving portions of their debts in the hopes that they will find a place for him.

The part of this parable that puzzles us is this—“And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely.”  It puzzles us because it makes it sound like the master sees his steward cheating him and approves of what he is doing.  In real life this would probably not happen between human master and steward, but I believe it is used here in this parable to illustrate how Heavenly Father’s would react to us as stewards if we were doing the same thing.  If we truly believe that Heavenly Father is our master and we are His stewards, we know that Heavenly Father is not so narrow-minded as to object if we use part of our stewardship to help others, even if we have been wasteful in the rest of our stewardship.  He sees it as wisely providing for our everlasting habitation after mortality.

This is reinforced by this line--"Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations."  We are to understand that if we use parts of our stewardship to help people, even if they don't really deserve it, when Judgment Day comes, they will speak up for us and be witnesses for our generosity.  Helping them amounts to "laying up treasure in heaven."

“For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (v8) – Jesus said this to point out how any money-grabbing man of the world is smart enough to prepare ahead of time some sort of golden parachute (as we might call it) to use after getting ousted from a job, but the children of the Father’s kingdom don’t seem to realize they can provide golden parachutes for themselves for after mortality through charitable good works. 

So after realizing this, I wondered what was keeping me from living my life in such a way so as to consciously add to my treasure in heaven, and I wondered why I had dismissed in the past the concept of “treasure in heaven” as sort of a pie-in-the-sky idealistic notion is if it had no practicality.   I realized it was because it is hard for me to get a good sense of what kind of treasure and how much I had laid up.   We don’t have a way to really check on how much is there like we can check our bank’s website or our bank statement and see a number. 

But then I thought, is that God’s fault or ours?

It strikes me that while we may keep careful account of our bank deposits and withdrawals, we don’t necessarily keep much account of the good we do for others.  It is said that what we measure and record tends to improve, so perhaps if we wish to know about our treasure in heaven, we should record every good deed we do.  We can do this in the confidence that it indicates the amount of treasure that we are laying up in heaven.   And if it helps us remember the satisfaction we have felt while doing those things, then that’s an earthly benefit we certainly deserve to give ourselves.

It looks like I have some things to write in my journal.  I don’t think it needs to be really detailed.  It can just be a line or two.

Now, I don’t suppose that this laying up treasure in heaven is something we are supposed to do only when we are about to pass over to the other side, like the steward who only started thinking about generosity when he was about to get kicked out of his job.  I get the sense that it is supposed to be something we do all along, splitting our efforts between caring wisely for our stewardship and giving something away, maybe even to those who don’t seem to deserve it.  In the parable, those debtors certainly didn’t deserve clemency; after all, they were in debt!  They got themselves in that predicament!  Thus, some generosity to those who seem to not warrant it is truly a kindness.

Watch the following video "Treasures in Heaven: The John Tanner Story, part 2 of 2" and see if you can keep track of the treasure in heaven that John Tanner laid up.

If this post helped you, please share it on Facebook or Twitter or your other networks.  You never know how many people you can help.


Jessica Pellien said...

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Meridian: http://www.ldsmag.com/church/article/10756?ac=1?ac=1
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought: https://www.dialoguejournal.com/2012/review-paul-c-gutjahr-the-book-of-mormon-a-biography/
Juvenile Instructor: http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/scholarly-inquiry-paul-gutjahr-answers-your-questions/comment-page-1/

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Best wishes,

Jessica Pellien
Princeton University Press