Luke 16:1-15 (winter, AD 29)
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (v.10-11)
When I was young(er!) I wanted to achieve big things. Big things for me, big things for God, but mainly just big things. For many people that desire is an instinctive reaction to feeling insignificant or under-appreciated. It can feel like the only alternative to miserably accepting your fate as a person of limited consequence.
Many mid-life crises happen to people who realise, decades after childhood has passed, that there’s almost zero chance of them doing what they think of as a ‘big thing’. They become obsessed with ‘legacy’: what will I be remembered for? What lasting mark will I make on the world? As if they only valid mark is one that people can point to and say oh, that was that guy.
The antidote here to a paralysing sense of inadequacy and in inflated expectation of significance…isn’t very exciting. After all, most spiritual and medical antidotes are kinda humdrum, like, ‘Get more sleep’ and ‘Exercise’. Jesus commands faithfulness in the small, practical aspects of life. It is true that God can do anything with anyone. It is true that he used a reluctant, murderous, faithless, rebellious hothead to lead the Israelites out of Egypt as part of his pattern of demonstrating HIS saving of people. It is also true that the people God tends to use the most in order to serve him, in the biggest ways, are those who are already faithfully serving him in their own arena and who have no desire for significance. It’s why churches look for people who are already acting like 1 Timothy 3 shepherds, to make them shepherds (i.e. Elders/Pastors). It’s why companies promote people who are competent in a small area, to manage the competence of a larger area.
It follows then, that if we desire – as well we might – to achieve great things for God purely because we want to bring glory to God, then the next and most important thing to do is to be faithful. Right now. In the small things God has already given you. Be ready for him to use you in larger things – if he wishes – by glorifying him with your faithfulness in the small things.
That way, when you live – like most of us – a life filled only with massively important ‘small’ things like parenting, friendships and service, then God will welcome you with open arms saying ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.
Jesus could have used the example of a good man doing good things in a good way and the disciples may have left with an general notion of ’be good’. That Jesus used the example of a dishonest man who was being fired, and then doing somewhat underhanded things to give himself security, helps us to know better the aspects of the ex-steward that were being commended. Namely, his financial prudence and use of material things to help others, in a way that would also benefit him. See verse eight where master complimented the ‘shrewd’ dealings of his soon-to-be-ex steward.
Verse nine’s curious turn of phrase is either a reference to grateful friends or to God welcoming someone into heaven, emphasising the enthusiasm of the reception rather than the mere fact of it. Confused? Don’t worry, so are most commentators, e.g. Leon Morris: “This is notoriously one of the most difficult parables to interpret”.