Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Unjust Steward.

The Parable of the Unjust Steward was a parable told by Yeshua in the New Testament Gospel of Luke. In the parable, a steward who is about to be fired curries favor with the master's debtors by forgiving some of their debts.

This parable is considered to be one of the more difficult to interpret, since on the face of it Yeshua appears to be commending dishonest behavior. One meaning, provided by Yeshua himself (but which may be a latter addition by revisionists) is- "use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves",

This additional application was espoused by most early church writers including Asterius of Amasea, who wrote, "When, therefore, any one anticipating his end and his removal to the next world, lightens the burden of his sins by good deeds, either by canceling the obligations of debtors, or by supplying the poor with abundance, by giving what belongs to the Lord, he gains many friends, who will attest his goodness before the Judge, and secure him by their testimony a place of happiness."

The seeming commendation of dishonesty is usually explained in one of two ways. It is either pointed out that Yeshua 'commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness, not the shrewd manager for his dishonesty' - i.e. the manager's principle is the right one, even if he goes about it in the wrong way. An alternative is to interpret the story as not involving deceit by introducing elements not present in the text. For example, it has been asserted that records of a loan were sometimes inflated in order to get round the prohibition against usury; thus a loan of four hundred gallons of oil might be written up as eight hundred, so that the loan would appear to be without interest. The manager thus might be reducing the loans to their original amount - entirely honestly but no more pleasingly to his master.

Of course, these explanations miss the point of Yeshua's story entirely. Again, we can look to context to provide the true meaning of this parable. Like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, this parable is aimed squarely at the Pharisees and Torah-Teachers who continually grumble at the presence around Yeshua of sinners and other rabble. In fact, in Luke 15:1-2, the Bible tells us, "Now, all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to him, to hear him, and the Pharisees and the Torah-Teachers grumbled, saying, This one receives sinners and eats with them." It is in this context that Yeshua tells this and several other parables (including the Prodigal Son).

….Yeshua said: "There was a wealthy man (God) who employed a general manager (The Pharisees). Charges were brought to him that his manager was squandering his resources. So he summoned him and asked him, `What is this I hear about you? Turn in your accounts, for you can no longer be manager.' "`What am I to do?' said the manager to himself. `My boss is firing me, I'm not strong enough to dig ditches, and I'm ashamed to go begging (a playful dig at the pride of the Pharisees). Aha! I know what I'll do -- something that will make people (sinners and publicans) welcome me into their homes after I've lost my job here!' "So, after making appointments with each of his employer's debtors, he said to the first, `How much do you owe my boss?' `Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. `Take your note back,' he told him. `Now, quickly! Sit down and write one for four hundred!' To the next he said, `And you, how much do you owe?' `A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. `Take your note back and write one for eight hundred.' "And the employer of this dishonest manager applauded him for acting so shrewdly!

According to Matthew, Yeshua taught (Matthew 23:2-4):

"The Torah-teachers and the Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses. So, whatever they tell you, take care to do it. But don't do what they do, because they talk but don't act! They tie heavy loads onto people's shoulders but won't lift a finger to help carry them."

In this story, Yeshua does not deem the action of the steward as dishonest. Quite the contrary, he praises the steward's shrewdness in recognizing and carrying out the generosity of his master. What Yeshua was saying in this parable was that the self-righteous Pharisees and Torah-Teachers, in whom God has entrusted his mercy, would do better to display it to help t sinners, rather than grumbling about their presence around Yeshua.

2 comments:

Anders said...

Regarding the “Matthew 23”

A logical analysis (found here: www.netzarim.co.il (the only legitimate Netzarim-website)) of the earliest manusscripts (including the logical implications of the research by Ben-Gurion Univ. Prof. of Linguistics Elisha Qimron of Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT)) of “the gospel of Matthew”, implies that Ribi Yehoshua was a Perushi (Pharisee). Ribi Yehoshua ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth was called a Ribi and only the Perushim had Ribis.

The current earliest manusscripts of “the gospel of Matthew” contains words a first century Ribi would never have said, and thus a reconstruction is needed.
[Even according to the most authoritative Christian scholars, e.g., The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, what Christians call “NT” contains redactions (see quote from that book in the below website; click on "Glossaries"; click on "NT")]
Ribi Yehoshua taught this in NHM 23:1-3:
”Then Yehoshua spoke to the qehilot and to his talmidim saying, ”The Sophrim and those of the Rabbinic-Perushim sect of Judaism who advocate that Halakhah must be exclusively oral sit upon the bench of Mosheh. So now, keep shomeir and do concering everything – as much as they shall tell you! Just don’t imitate their maaseh because they say but they don’t do.”

The Rabbinic-Perushim taught that one should follow the mitzwot (directive or military-style orders), and Ribi Yehoshua taught that one should listen to that. The Rabbinic-Perushim advocated Halakhah (oral Torah).

Anders Branderud

Marc Thomas said...

Anders, it is great to meet you and thank you for your contribution. I agree with what you say. My post does not intentionally suppose that Yeshua was not a Perushi. But, I do contend that he was an unusual one. And, as a Rabbi with semikhah, he taught that he too was an authoritative teacher of halakah.

I believe that Yeshua's statement that the men who sat on the seat of Moshe were to be followed concerning their halakah and not to be followed concerning their deeds, is an obvious rhetorical irony demonstrating their hypocrisy (e.g., "Do as I say, not as I do."), which he spoke of often. But, he also taught them to do what he said and what he did (John 8:32).

Thanks again for your great contribution. I appreciate your insight and look forward to more. May God bless you, Marc