“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.”
Now, there is one more thing that we need to remember before we start looking more closely at the specifics of this passage, and that this passage is a parable and not an allegory. A parable is a heavenly story that points to a greater and often spiritual reality. There are not always one to one correspondences between elements and where there are correspondences, there is not always a good correspondence. In other words, while we are often led to view this rich man as God, do not attribute to God everything that this rich man does, simply see the rich man as an imperfect analogy of something that cannot be adequately described in human language. Many people want to allegorize these parables, not only forcing meaning on things that are not present but also by forcing there to be a complete correspondence between the picture and the reality. This is crucial to understand when you are looking at any parable, and especially with ones that are debated as much as this one has been.
The first thing, then that Jesus tells us in this parable is that there was a certain man. And the primary thing that he tells us about this man is that he is rich. The word that he uses is plou/sioß (plousios), which implies that he was abounding in worldly assets. There are multiple words in Greek to describe one having wealth, and this is not a word like eujpore/omai (euporeomai), which speaks of one who is well to do, but is speaks someone who is abundantly wealthy. Why is this worth noting? Assuming that the charges against the steward were true, the effect of his squandering certainly was not harming the overall wealth of the rich man in question. You might say that the man was greedy and thus the squandering was such that it kept a man who was abundantly rich from being abundantly even more rich. Yet, then, you are missing the point of the parable. This accusation that was brought about against him was such that he was in danger of losing his position of authority over the master’s money. Also, the language of squandering, diaskori/zw (diaskorizo), is such that speaks of scattering or wiping out that which was given. It speaks of how a sower scatters seeds all about, throwing them this way and that. The accusation against this man is quite severe and implies that the steward was doing serious damage to the financial portfolio of the rich man.
So what about these accusations? The word for accuse is the word, dia/ballw (diaballo), and is the word which we get “diabalo” from, or devil. This is the only time it is found in the New Testament, but it is found within the Greek translation of the Old Testament in Daniel 3:8, where the Chaldeans are maliciously accusing the Jews, implying that the Jews were not loyal citizens because they would not bow down before an idol of the king. Note what the accusation is about. The accusation is not so much against them because they won’t bow down—if that were so, the accusation would be true. The accusation implies a lack of loyalty because they won’t bow down. In addition, it is found twice in the inter-testamental writings of the books of Maccabees, once to describe misinformation given of one who was squandering money (2 Maccabees 3:11) and once of the slandering of a righteous man with the intent of ruining his reputation (4 Maccabees 4:1). It should not surprise us that the word “devil” is drawn from this term, reflecting not so much broad accusations, but accusations that are meant to be destructive and misleading.
With these things in mind, I think that the implication we must draw is that this manager—this steward of the rich man’s wealth—was being falsely accused. Perhaps he had offended someone or perhaps someone was out to take his job. These things we do not know, but what we can safely glean from the text was that this accusation is designed to discredit the man and undo the things that he has worked hard to accomplish for his boss. This is rather awkward because most of us have grown up thinking nothing more than that this is a dishonest manager extorting money from his boss, yet that is probably one of the reasons that this parable has been so perplexing to so many people. And indeed, sometimes those little titles in bold print at the top of passages like this can be rather misleading (and of course, these were never part of the original inspired text but are insertions made by translators).
What should we say about this? Should we distrust our Bibles from here on out? No, not at all. Our modern English translations are remarkably accurate and even the little bold print titles can be quite helpful. What it does teach us is that we need to oftentimes look deeper at the scriptures when we read things that just don’t sit right with our common sense. It is also a reminder that we need to slow down in our study of God’s word. Oftentimes we become so familiar with a story and the way the meaning of a story has been presented that we may gloss over it and in doing so miss the meaning or the application that is within the text. We live in a culture that is rush, rush, when it comes to everything it does—how we would benefit by slowing down as we immerse ourselves in God’s word. I pray that as we take time to work our way through this parable, that it will encourage you to take your time to work through other passages of scripture seeking God’s face and seeking to dig more and more deeply in to the glorious treasure that we have been given.
I love Him more deeply every day and in every way,
For he has given me his word and has hid it in my heart.
He has shown me truth and has shown me life
And given this once dead sinner a brand new start.