Once upon a time.
This is how a parable begins.
We hear once upon a time and when it comes from Jesus, we listen for morals and look for lessons of what we should do.
Once upon a time there was a steward. A steward who was accused and then fired. A steward who then set out to cheat his master in order to protect himself.
This steward brought in all of his master’s debtors and reduced each one’s debt, thus stealing from his master but incurring debts of gratitude for himself.
Once upon a time there was a steward who was then praised by his master for having the prudence to care for himself.
It is bothersome and uncomfortable, this steward who is commended for being unjust. It is not what we expect from Jesus. It is not the moral lesson of selfless service we presume that Jesus will teach.
The moral seems to be, instead, that we should cheat our master.
This looks so out of character that we try to explain it some other way. We search for ways around it and try to find sermons to explain it away.
Yet what if the moral is as it appears? What if the moral truly is cheat your master? How could this possibly be a directive from Jesus?
What changes it all, what turns everything on its head (which Jesus is prone to do) is the discovery of who the master is.
It all turns around when you understand that the master is the world. It is the world whom we are to cheat. The firing is our notice that our lives here will soon end, and before that day comes we are to cheat this master with all of his own tools.
If he gives us riches or beauty, power or abilities, we are to use them for our own purposes rather than for his. We are to use them for intentions that align with the goals of God’s kingdom.
For if we won’t do that even with the world’s kind of property, Who will trust us at all with the true kind of treasure?
If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? ~ Jesus
So cheat your master. Cheat him with all of his own temporary tools so that you can store up your own, lasting sort of treasure with God.
Art Credits: Photo of Neuschwanstein Castle by Alfred Borchard; Etching in the Bowyer Bible by Jan Luyken; painting of Parable of the Unjust Steward by Andrey Mironov; photo of Earth from NASA images