What’s mine?

September 23
Proper 20C
Amos 8:4-12
Psalm 138
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13

This parable has troubled interpreters almost since it was written. Jesus seems to be commending dishonesty. How can the master praise his steward for giving away his wealth, the very thing for which he was accused in the first place?

Bruce Malina and Richard Rorbaugh have written A Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. They suggest that the owners debtor are tenant farmers, and the size of the debts suggests whole villages are involved. When the steward forgave a portion of the debt, the tenants would have been overwhelmed by the owner’s generosity. The owner now looks good, the tenants can pay — it’s a win/win situation. That helps the story make a little more sense.

But the moral still puzzles. Which of us haven’t told our kids or hear when we were little, receiving our allowance, “If you are careful with a little, you learn to be careful with much.”? I can even understand, “If you are not faithful with unrighteous wealth, how can you be faithful with what is true?” But what puzzles is, “If you are not faithful with what is another’s, who will give you your own?” That’s just backward from what we would expect: if your not faithful with your own, who will entrust you with what is theirs?

It implies that what I have now is not my own, and that my own will be much better than what I have now, and given to me by others. The owner receives honor from the villagers when his steward clears their debts. They give him what is his. The grain and oil were not his in the first place. They receive the grain and oil from him. What is mine? The only things that are inalienably mine are given to me by others: love, honor, joy. Anything I think I own belongs to someone else.

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