“‘I knew what I should have done, in order that when I am removed from responsibility of stewardship, they might welcome me into their houses.’”
As we move through this man’s thought, something very unusual stands out before us, particularly in the Greek. In the first clause, both of the verbs, ginw/skw (ginosko-“to know”) and poie/w (poieo-“to do”), are in the aorist tense, which reflects a simple past tense. In addition, poie/w (poieo) is in the subjunctive mood, which, amongst other things, reflects the idea of a cognitive or intellectual probability. “I should have done this” or “I might do that” are examples of the subjunctive mood. When we put this all together, it is not so much that the steward is looking ahead to what he might do to make himself welcome in people’s homes, but he is looking back at seeing what he should have done in the first place—with the implication that he will now go back and do it! Keep this in mind as we progress into the following verses, as it will help add some light to what is taking place.
The next thing that we need to note is that this man is clearly not immediately fired from his position—the loss of job is imminent, but has not yet been realized. He speaks of “when” he is removed from his position. Now, the term that is used here which speaks of his removal is the Greek term meqi/sthmi (methistami), from which we get the English term “metathesis.” The word speaks of a drastic change from one state to the next. In modern Greek, it is often used to describe someone’s death and change from this life to the next, and that has led some commentators to believe that this steward is dealing with eternal matters. Yet, there is very little in the context of the passage or in the Biblical use of the term (either in the Septuagint or the New Testament) to imply that he is thinking of eternal matters. Instead, the normal use of the term seems most reasonable, that he is looking at a total change in lifestyle when he is removed from his position, and is seeking to determine what he may do to correct his dilemma.
We must also ask the question as to who the “they” are that this steward is referring to in terms of being welcomed into their homes. Many of our English translations assume the word “people” as the subject of this verb, making it a very general statement, but the word people is nowhere present, implying that the “they” is a more specific group. Normally, when we have a pronoun, we look to the most recent definite noun (of the same class and state) to see what it is being identified with. Clearly, the steward is not referring to his master, that would first of all be nonsensical in light of what is about to take place, and, the term “they” is plural and the master is one man.
The only other person that we have represented is the man who accused the steward of squandering his master’s resources. Let us consider for a minute who this accuser likely was. We have already spoken of this in terms of how the accusation was designed to be malicious and is false in its essence, and we have dealt with the idea that this might have come from someone who had an interest in stealing this steward’s job for himself. Yet, there is perhaps another possibility that we should entertain, perhaps the accusation is coming from one of the master’s debtors, one who is disgruntled at the way this steward has been dealing with them. Indeed, we must be careful as we are entering into speculation here, but at the same time, God gave us minds to reason and the people to whom this parable was told very well may have asked the same questions. As long as we stay within the context of the text, some degree of reading between the lines seems to be quite reasonable.
Let us continue this line of thinking for just a moment. Say that this steward has offended one of the master’s debtors by the way he does business, is it not probably that the steward has offended others? And if others were offended, is it not reasonable to presume that they may have communicated with one another? And if that is the case—which seems quite probable—is it not likely that the “certain man” who made the charge against the steward is speaking on behalf of other debtors? Again, we have entered into a good bit of speculation here, but at the same time, it fits entirely within the context of the passage.
This would make the “they” of his statement refer to the group of debtors that he has been dealing with. Now, we have to answer the next question as to why he would want to be welcome in their homes. The normal response is that he is hoping for a place to stay, given that he will no longer have a place in his master’s house. Yet the term that we translate as “welcome” is the Greek word de/comai (dechomai), which means “to receive, to accept, to tolerate, to welcome, or to grasp,” in other words being fairly broad in its usage. While the term can be used to refer to receiving someone or something on a permanent basis (see Matthew 18:5), it does not have to, and can simply refer to someone who is being welcomed as a houseguest for dinner or overnight. In other words, remembering that we spoke of this steward having too much dignity to live off of charity, it seems that his interest is making right offense he committed toward the debtors—at least correcting his wrong in such a way that they would be amiable toward him and not seek his life as well as his job.
So, what offense is this steward trying to make right? We have stated already that this seems to be a man of honor and that the charges were malicious and false—how could he have anything to make right? I believe that we will soon see just what his offense was, but let’s arrive at that conclusion as we continue to walk through this passage. The key thing to remember, beloved, is that although we are engaged in some reading between the lines as well as wrestling with the cultural nuances of Jesus’ day in terms of language, the Pharisees understood exactly what Jesus meant when he told this parable to his disciples—and were quite offended. Keep that in mind as we continue studying this much-debated text. In addition, keep in mind that this parable is meant for your edification as well, else the Holy Spirit would not have preserved it for you.