The Wise Steward
16 He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’
3 “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’
5 “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.
9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.
Luther’s Explanatory Notes
Parable of the unjust steward. This gospel is a discourse about good works, and especially about avarice, that we should not abuse the use of money and goods, but help poor and needy people. Such teaching the Lord illustrates in a parable, and says we are to accommodate ourselves like this unjust steward; because he was deposed from his office, he saw that he had need of other people’s assistance; hence he makes use of his office, while he still has it in hand. We take this parable in its simple meaning without seeking any substitutes, as Jerome did.
8 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.
Commended the unjust steward. The lord concludes that the steward had done wisely. He does not commend his actions as good; but that after having first squandered his master’s goods, he now acquires more of it cunningly for himself. But the lord commends this, that he did not forget himself, and praises only his cunning, promptness and forethought. Just as if I would incite any one to watch, to pray and to study, and would say: See, the robbers and murderers watch at night, that they may rob and steal, therefore will you not watch and pray and study? Here I do not praise the robbers and murderers on account of their wickedness, but the wisdom in securing goods so cunningly.
Thus this parable is to be understood; for the Lord says, “The children of this world are wiser than the children of light.” Thus the children of light should learn wisdom from the children of darkness, or the world; that just as they are wise in their actions, the children of light should also be wise in their work. Therefore he also adds, “in their generation.”
This saying, “The children of the world are wiser,” etc., does not need much interpretation; we see it daily with our own eyes; alas, more than is good, how the world is so very careful to seek its own advantage, and spares no trouble and labor to secure it. On the other hand we see how indolent and negligent in God’s affairs the children of light, that is, the true Christians, are, when they know that God has pleasure in them, and they may enjoy their inheritance forever.
9 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.
Friends of the unjust mammon. The Lord gives us in clear words another lesson, when he says, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.” As if he would say, Ye should learn something good from the unrighteous mammon; the unjust steward knew how to take care of himself. How much more should you Christians do, who are the right kind of stewards of the goods, over which God has appointed you stewards, that you may use them to the glory of God and the good of your neighbor.
But the Lord applies a peculiar name to riches, and calls them “The mammon of unrighteousness.” Mammon (=multitude, great riches) means riches or worldly goods, which one possesses beyond his needs; that is, beyond his own necessities, and with which he can be useful to others, with out detriment to himself. He calls it “mammon of unrighteousness,” not on account of its kind or nature, but on account of men; not because it is acquired by extortion or injustice, for no one can do a good work with ununrighteous goods, but restoration should be made (Isa. 65:8;) but be cause of the wrong use to which the goods are applied. For just as this steward was a wicked man and squandered the goods which were not his own, but his lord’s, so we are also wicked servants, as regards the goods which God gives us and we do not use to God’s glory and the benefit of our neighbor. He, on the other hand, who helps the poor with the money and goods that God has given him, converts the unrighteous mammon into a good mammon.
But what shall we say to this, that he says, “Make to yourselves friends of the unrighteous mammon?” when faith alone makes us pious and friends of God? (See Rom. 3:28; 4:3; 5:1; 10:10; Matt. 7:17; 12:33, according to which the fruits do not make the tree good, but the tree must be good before the fruit can be good.) Answer: The Scripture does not speak of such works, that we become pious through them, but that thereby we have outward proofs and differences between the true and the false faith.
In the second place he says: “That when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” Just as if we should do the works for our own benefit and for our sake, whereas all works shall and must be done without compensation, and no reward or benefit dare be sought. (Matt. 10:8; Phil. 2:5 ff.) Answer: The meaning is this: Do good, and it will follow of itself, without your seeking, that you shall have friends in heaven and receive reward. But see to it, that your eye is single and then leave the care to God. In the third place he says, “That they may receive you into everlasting habitations,” though not the saints, but God only takes us into everlasting habitations. (Matt. 25:9; 1 Peter 4:18; John 3:13; 1 Tim. 2:5; John 14:6) Answer: This passage does not speak of the saints in heaven, but of the poor, needy ones of earth. Thus the friends receive us into heaven, when through our faith, which was exercised toward them, they become the cause of our joy in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 25:40) Men will not do this, but they shall be witnesses of our faith, which was shown toward them, on which account God receives us into the everlasting habitations.