The parables of Jesus (Part 1)
Sermon by Rev Stuart Simpson on 10 November 2019
Reading was Luke 16:1-8
Over the next three weeks we are going to reflect on some of Jesus’ parables in the Gospel of Luke, but before we begin, we probably need to know what a parable is and why Jesus used them.
What’s a parable? The basic definition is ‘a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson’. However, if we were to understand the common speech of post-biblical Judaism, the Hebrew word for Parable mašal and the Aramaic word for Parable mathla would be defined as figurative forms of speech of every kind:
- Significant name
- And rule
What is even more important to recognise is these figurative forms of speech were not simply given to lay down general truth but were uttered in an actual situation of the life of Jesus, in a particular and often unforeseen crisis. And more often than not, they were concerned with a situation of conflict. Dr Joachim Jeremias in The Parables of Jesus says these forms of speech were used to:
Correct, reprove, attack: for the greater part, though not exclusively, the parables are weapons of warfare.
Do you know how many of these figurative forms of speech are given by Jesus in the gospels? There are approximately 37, which of course we will not be able to get through in three weeks.
It’s helpful to know that there are eight groupings of the parables. And these groupings are formed around particular emphasis:
- Jesus’ sermons on the Kingdom of God – The mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32)
- Cries of celebration – new garment and the new wine (Luke 5:36-38)
- God’s mercy for sinners – the two debtors (Luke 7:41-43)
- Cries of warning and a call for repentance – the unfruitful fig-tree (Mark 11:12-14)
- The challenge of the crisis – the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-8)
- Realised discipleship – the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
- The way of suffering of Jesus –the stone must be rejected (Mark 8:31)
- And the ultimate end – New Temple (Mark 14:58)
Taking this into account and remembering that these figurative forms of speech are used by Jesus to correct, reprove or attack thoughts about God and God’s Kingdom, today we are going to explore one of the parables found in the group The Challenge of Crisis. It’s called the Parable of the Unjust Steward or the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. As you listen to the parable, try and hear what Jesus might be saying about God and how he might want us to live knowing God’s character.
There was a very wealthy woman who had hired a property manager to look after her huge portfolio around Wellington and the Kapiti Coast. Recently someone she trusted had brought to her attention that her property manager had been removing particular household goods from her properties for his own purpose; either keeping them for himself or selling them for extra cash and then blaming the tenants.
Calling the manger to her office she told him she knew what he had been doing and wanted to know why – with no response she told him that she had no other option than to immediately dismiss him.
Not knowing how she had found out what he had been doing, he began to plan what to do while his boss was still talking – he was too old to find another job. He knew that she could have done more than simply fire him, she could have threaten to bring charges with the police – but he also knew she was someone who had always been generous and compassionate. Counting on her nature, he began to leave her office, while, at the same time, asking if he could finished up the work he had been doing – this involved collecting the rent from a number of tenants who were late in their payments.
With her agreement ringing in his ears he quickly arranged to meet with a number of tenants, who although late paying their rent, had particular connections in the business and property world – he had to talk with them before any news got out that he had lost his job; hoping to gain from his misfortune. It was risky but in the mind of the tenants he was still the property manager so he would use that to his advantage.
The plan was to meet with the tenant that owed the most in rent and yet had the highest media profile. Knowing that the tenants believed he still worked for the property owner he asked:
“How much are you behind in your rent?”
In response the tenant said
“I know, I know, it’s a lot, about a years’ worth – I keep planning to pay but then things come up and I know she is so, so generous [talking about the owner].“
The property manager then said:
“Look if you agree to give me half of what you owe then I can make sure you will only have to pay six months’ rent –you’ll need to sign this agreement and if she eventually finds out you can always say you didn’t know I had been fired. And if she goes on about it you can also use your media contact to shame her – you know, she got the reputation of being fair, of being generous and forgiving and now she’s forcing you to live on the street!”
Once the tenant signed the agreement, the property manager contacted the next debtor in line to arrange a meeting and an opportunity to lay out the same scheme. With the agreement of the second tenant signed, the property manager gathered the signed documents and with a cat-that-ate-the- canary smile, returned to the property owner with the news the rent would soon be paid.
It didn’t take long for the property owner to find out what was going on. However, rather than being angry she applauded her ex-employee for his sharp wit and wisdom.
So then, what might the parable be saying about God’s Character and how we might be called to live? Does God want us to be like the shrewd, unjust property manager? Does God want us to lie, cheat and steal? If your answer is yes, then you’ve missed the main point of the parable – the main point of the parable is about the owner – God, who was amazingly generous and merciful.
That is why the property is commended not because he lied and cheated and stole – which if you notice led to others lying and cheating. But because he knew, he remembered, he trusted that the owner would continue to be merciful, generous and forgiving, even if he chose to do the wrong thing.
This is what Jesus says we can learn from the children of this generation – live in the complete knowledge that God is abundantly generous and merciful – we can choose of course to live anyway we want but then we shouldn’t call Jesus Lord.
Knowing that this parable fits in the category of ‘challenge of crisis’: maybe the crisis is that the disciples had forgotten God’s character and needed to be reminded.
What might life look like if we continue to live in the knowledge that our God is so, so generous and merciful?