This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently September 2016.
The Greek for this week does nothing to improve the harshness of the text. Quite the opposite! According to the Greek, the manager (literally the economist) is praised for being shrewd, but Jesus point blank calls him αδικια (adikia), which means unrighteous. Furthermore, the eternal homes of the wealthy are σκηνας "skenas" or tents, the word used for the tabernacle in Exodus or the tents on the mount of Transfiguration. Finally, we are commended, not simply to use "worldly wealth" but actually -- "unrighteous mammon." What is going on!?!
In spite of the bizarre metaphor of the shrewd manager, I think this parable reflects a few consistent themes of the Bible relating to money and possessions:
- All our money and possessions ultimately belong to God
- Money and possessions are scarce and so we are called to be good stewards -- good economists!
- Money and possessions can become a god, a god who cannot prevent death; a god who will only demand more.
I think what is unique is this:
- We are eternal beings; our life on earth is somehow connected to our life in heaven. How we use our money has eternal consequences. This is most challenging for me conceptually to consider the relationship between heaven and earth. In terms of preaching, it makes me ask -- where is the grace in this passage? Where is the cross and resurrection in the midst of this? I feel like we must push this parable to its breaking point to get to the cross -- all of us worship money and none of us would have an eternal home without Christ.
Side note: In 2019 I preached about how this passage in no way presented an image of how God intends for the world to be, but rather describes how the world actually is. I contrasted the economy of God in Luke 15 against the economy of the shrewd in Luke 16. We are in, but not of this world. This resonated with people
Relating to heavenly things:
σκηνη (skenas, meaning "house", 16.9): This word does not simply mean house. The word literally means "tent" or really "tabernacle." It is used in both the OT as the word for Tabernacle (think Exodus) and then in the NT when Peter wants to build tents during the transfiguration. People no longer lived in tents by the time of Jesus, so this term is clearly used to suggest something other-worldly.
This is especially true when it is combined with αιωνιους, meaning eternal. To give you a sense of the power of this word, consider 2 Corinthians 5:1 "For we know that if the earthly house (οικος) we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal (αιωνιους) in the heavens." Humans does not make eternal things. Only God does!
δεχομαι ("welcome" or "take" 16,4,6,7,9): This word appears more in
Luke then any other verb. Look where else it comes into play:
2:28 Simeon "receives" the baby Jesus
18.7 Children "receive" the kofG as a child
22.17 Jesus "took" the cup and gave thanks...
There is something central about welcoming in Luke's Gospel! The reason I include this verb is because welcoming someone into an eternal tent is a beautiful and wonderful thing.
Relating to earthly things:
οικονομος; οικονομια ("oikonomos" or "oikonomia", meaning "manager",
16:1,2,3,4; other cognates appear in this passage): This word comes
into English as "economics" or "economist." BDAG translates it as
"estate manager" and "steward" or "treasurer." In my first economics
class as an undergrad, we learned that economics is about the allocation
of scarce resources. This person is shrewd with his scarce resources,
that is for sure.
αδικια ("adikia " meaning
"unrighteous", 16;8,9): This word is often translates in this context
as "dishonest" or "shrewd." The word does not mean dishonest. It
means unrighteous or evil. (Like in Genesis 6, God sees that the world
is full of αδικια and decides to flood the whole thing). δικαιος - the
root word here - means righteous. What is also striking is how Jesus
uses this word specifically.
οικονομος της αδικιας: economist of unrighteousness
It if makes you feel better, the owner never praises the man for being dishonest, but does call him shrewd, φρονιμος (16.8)
εκλιπη (from εκλειπω, meaning "fail", 16:9) I think the whole passage
rises and falls on this verb. The money always runs out...money always fails too. As does
living on this earth.
μαμωνας (mammon, meaning "wealth", 16.9,11,13): The word used by Jesus toward the end of the passage is not simply possessions but "mammon." This could possibly refer to an ancient Syrian deity of wealth. This may or may not be the case, but it is certainly true that Jesus is personifying money here. We have seen this in our lives where money becomes a thing to be loved, feared and trusted above all things.
At one point Jesus refers to "μαμωνας της αδικιας": mammon of unrighteousness. I think that Jesus would maintain that all mammon is unrighteous. But is all money unrighteous?
οφειλω (opheilo, meaning "debt", 16:5,7): This word can used in all sorts of beautiful ways (Lord's prayer, Matthew 6:12). Here it is more straight forward in its use. A reminder that this passage is very real; debt is as old as currency. For many in the Bible -- and today -- debt is also a massive problem. What if Jesus really meant cancel your literal debts each time we pray the Lord's prayer! That might be easier than forgiving others our sins. Now, you might say, wait, nobody owes me anything. Really? If you own business stocks or an investment accounts, somebody, somewhere, however indirectly, owes you something.
Greek grammar concept: Circumstantial participle.
The thing that causes most Greek readers to stumble is the circumstantial participle. While some are very tricky, probably 50% are very easy. Let's look at one. In verse 16.2 the sentence starts out with one:
Bible Works parses this as "verb participle aorist active nominative masculine singular"
Scary, right? Well, look, there is no "the" near by it, so its not an adjectival or substantive participle; there is no form of "is/was/to be" nearby, so its not supplementary. So its going to be circumstantial. Which means we need to figure out three things: What happened? Who did it? And how does this connect to the rest of the sentence?
What happened: Get the BW translation of the verb, or just pull it from your memory: phone...means hear. So, what happened, well, someone hears/got heard
Who did it? Well, your brain probably figured this one out already -- the rich man. But if you need help here, you need to break down what BW tells you into two buckets. First bucket is "aorist active." That relates to the action. The second bucket is "nominative mas...singular" which relates to who does the action. Who is the nominative, masculine, singular? Well, it is the single man subject of the sentence, who is, as your brain knew already, the rich man.
And how does this connect? Well, in this case you first got to put the verb in its tense. Which is here an aorist: "Heard" Now you add in the what and who + the phrase "under the circumstance"
"Under the circumstance of the rich man heard"...
Yuck. Make it English:
"After the rich man heard" or "When the rich man heard."
It sounds like a lot of work, but your brain probably pulled out "heard" and "rich man" right away. See how you do with the second word in 16.5.
Sentence break down:
εγνων τι ποιησω ινα οταν μετασταθω εκ της οικονομιας δεξωνται με εις τους οικους αυτων
NRS Luke 16:4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'
εγνων: I know. Just looks funny. Simple verb.
τι ποιησω : Notice the direction of the accent on "ti" Indicates it is a question. The verb poihso can be either future or aorist subjunctive. In this, does not matter. What will vs. what shall I do.
ινα οταν: Double whammy of conjunctions. Both demand subjunctive verb: "In order that whenever..."
μετασταθω: Verb conjugated based on conjunctions
εκ της οικονομιας: ex takes genitive. Not sure what kind this here. genitive of separation?? Doesn't really matter: "Out of this administration."
δεξωνται με: Here the "me" is the object and not the subject. Question -- how does one know this? Why could, in this infinitive phrase, this been a question at all? [Because in an infinitive phrase the subject is also in the accusative case]
εις τους οικους αυτων: 2nd week of Greek: Into his house.