THEME: The Prodigal Steward and Spiritual Investment

BY: Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.



Our Gospel text (Luke 16:1–13) this Sunday is the enigmatic “Parable of the Dishonest Steward.” It is a parable that appears to exhort us to act in ways that contradict our most cherished Christian and civic values, such as honesty, accountability, and integrity. Even scarier is that Jesus’ words, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9) seem to go against the values and virtues he embodies.

It was reported to a wealthy man that his steward was squandering his property. He summoned him and said, “What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward” (Luke 16:2). The steward said to himself, “What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?” (Luke 16:3).

The steward, therefore, decided to cook the books by calling his master’s debtors one after the other and reducing the debts they owed him. By doing this, he is making sure that when he eventually loses his position as steward, he will still have friends whom he has acquired with his master’s money and who will take him into their houses so that he won’t be homeless or in need.

Surprisingly, the master praises him for being shrewd and prudent instead of punishing him for stealing from him to get favors from his debtors (Luke 16:8). Jesus instructed his disciples that they should act like this dishonest steward and even use the money they got in dishonest ways to make friends for themselves.

It is said that this parable was the most talked about by Julian the Apostate, a fourth-century pagan Roman Emperor. History says that he cited this parable to support his claim that Jesus Christ and Christians were liars and thieves. But the Romans, with their high sense of values, morality, and justice, cannot allow the teachings of Jesus Christ and Christianity to pollute their conscience and corrupt their young people. Therefore, he decided to get rid of Christianity and take the Roman empire back to practicing paganism.

Nevertheless, every Christian knows that Jesus could not endorse dishonesty or dishonest wealth. Besides, Christians are not liars or thieves. Moreover, Christianity is the champion of the best practices and highest moral standards in the world.

We must, however, admit that this parable, especially coming from the mouth of Jesus Christ, seems to paint Christianity in a negative light. We must also acknowledge that we might have missed the point that Jesus Christ was trying to make with this parable, particularly as it relates to the reason the master praised his dishonest steward; what Jesus meant when he instructed his disciples to make friends with dishonest wealth; and what Jesus meant when he said, “If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?” Simply put, what is the meaning of this parable?

To begin, our gospel passage from last week concluded with the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:1-32). One of the unnamed men in the parable is popularly known as “the prodigal son” because he wasted his father’s money on a life of luxury in another country. This Sunday, however, we are presented with an “unnamed steward” who wasted his master’s wealth rather than his father’s.

While the prodigal son was “selfishly prodigal” with his father’s money by living a lavish lifestyle, the prodigal steward was “shrewdly prodigal” with his master’s money. He “invested” his master’s money in people to collect a “dividend,” which was securing his own future through them. So, the two men were both “prodigal” or “wasteful” with other people’s money.

Interestingly, the dictionary meaning of the word “prodigal” is anything but negative in and of itself. Though some people like to think of “being prodigal” as synonymous with “being wayward,” it is not. Instead, it means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.” The word “prodigal” also refers to “having or giving something on a lavish scale.” As a result, the word “prodigal” refers to someone who keeps giving until there is nothing left.

In John 15:15, Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Jesus is saying we are his friends because he has not withheld anything that he has heard from his father from us. Instead, he has lavished on us all that he has received from his father. So, there is nothing left. Isn’t that being prodigal?

Thus, if this parable is referred to as “The Parable of the Prodigal Steward” rather than “The Parable of the Dishonest/Unfaithful Steward,” its hidden spiritual message becomes immediately evident. It is about being “prodigal” with the master’s money.

So, when Jesus says, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings,” (Luke 16:9) he was not commending dishonesty or dishonest wealth. Instead, Jesus was praising the steward’s shrewdness and cleverness.

Jesus was using his cleverness as a foil to teach his disciples how to employ to their advantage the gifts and blessings of God entrusted to them, especially money. In fact, they should be wasteful with the master’s money by giving alms or paying off other people’s debts so that they can have a place to live forever.

Evidently, this parable is founded on two premises: everything we have belongs to God, and we are stewards of God. As a result, it is an invitation for us to employ God’s resources in our possession to secure for ourselves a place in God’s kingdom. It is not about dishonesty or unfaithfulness.

When Jesus says, “If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?” (Luke 16:12) it was premised on the truth that everything we have belongs to God and we are only stewards of the gifts and blessings of God. The psalmist (24:1) puts it succinctly: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.”

Jesus used this parable to demonstrate to his disciples that investing in people or spending the “wealth” of God in our possession through almsgiving, acts of kindness, and generosity is the cleverest and perhaps easiest way to secure for themselves eternal dwelling. “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).

The parable of the prodigal steward, therefore, is a pictorial explanation of Luke 12:33–34, which says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Nowadays, almost everyone has a retirement plan. Plans for retirement are all about giving up some of our income and investing it through different companies to protect our futures. But what are your plans for your eternal dwelling? How are you using the gifts of the master in your possession to secure an eternal future for yourself? Which charity organizations are you supporting? By using the money, gifts, and blessings that God has given you to help the poor, you are making sure that you will have a place to live forever.

The logic of the parable of the prodigal steward is this: if the people of this world are willing to go to any lengths, including theft, to secure their “temporary future,” how much more would the children of God use God’s gift to secure their “eternal life?” Be prodigal with the wealth, gifts, and blessings that God has entrusted to you. Use them to help the poor around you, and they will plead on your behalf before God on the last day. In the evening of life, how you have invested the “wealth” of God will either count in your favor or against you. Have a happy Sunday!


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