“And also, he said to the disciples, ‘There was a certain man who was rich who had a steward, and this man accused him of squandering his possessions.”
We should pay very close attention to the first statement of this verse because it sets the larger context. The verse begins with de\ kai\ (de kai), which means, “but also or and also.” It could even be translated more colloquially as “and he went on to say…” These words connect this verse very closely with what goes before. This is not a general teaching that Jesus gave at some point of his ministry between here and there as so many of his recorded teachings are, but it follows on the heels of the passage that goes on before it, thus, we must see the connection.
This passage follows immediately after three parables that are normally grouped together—a lost lamb, a lost coin, and a lost son—and all designed to answer the challenge of the Pharisees and scribes, that Jesus had been receiving sinners to himself and even eating with them (something that would make one unclean in their eyes). This parable, then, is told in exactly the same context, and should be understood in terms of answering the same question about Jesus spending time with sinners. With this in mind, one must also make note of the link between this parable and that of the Prodigal Son. While we usually place this parable in with the parables about “lost things,” we should note that the parable of the prodigal son is not so much about a lost son being searched for as it is about a son who mismanages his father’s estate. In the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, the owner of the item in question does the seeking out; in the parable of the prodigal son, the Father, while clearly watching for his son’s return, never goes out and hunts his son down as in the previous two parables. Instead, he waits until his son gets to the end of his rope and receives his son back with forgiveness—much as the steward or manager does in this parable.
It should also be noted that the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees were considered to be stewards of the temple of God and of the riches of God’s law. Jesus tells a number of parables to this extent which are also designed to point out that these stewards were abusing and wasting the things of God which God had placed them over. Both of these parables (the prodigal son and the honest/dishonest manager) deal with exactly that question—the abuse of that which they had been given to care for and with forgiveness offered by the one in charge (the father and the rich man in the respective parables). We should not miss these connections, for they will provide us with important interpretive tools as we enter into this greatly disputed parable.
One final note about the context of this passage: note to whom Jesus is speaking. Luke begins this passage by telling us that Jesus is directing this parable toward his disciples, not to the crowd as a whole. It is almost as if this parable were meant as a private commentary on the previous parable—or at least, a commentary on the son who remained home in the parable of the prodigal son. It is also worth noting that in verse 14, we find out that the Pharisees had been listening in, and were offended at this parable of the steward. Why? It is likely because they understood this parable to be directed toward them—the ones who by all earthly measure were upright and righteous and never followed the path of the prodigal.
Have you ever told a story to one person, knowing that someone is listening in, with the express aim of addressing the one who is listening in? I think that one some level, this must be what Jesus is doing. It is as if stops in the middle of a public discourse, directs this toward his disciples (knowing full well the Pharisees are listening in) with the intent of putting the Pharisees in their place. There is no question that they heard the parable, and no question that they responded negatively, the question that we must now seek to wrestle with is just what does Jesus mean by using this parable? Oh, the joy of God’s word—it never ceases to force you to dig deeper and deeper into its riches, and oh the blessings one finds as one continues to plumb the depths!