How Much are You Indebted? (Luke 16:5)
“And calling in his lord’s debtors one at a time, he said to the first, ‘how much are you indebted to my lord?’”
So now we see this steward coming up with a solution—he is going to bring in the debtors and deal with them—likely, as we have already suggested, dealing specifically with those who have brought such accusations against him. The first thing that we should note about the language that is used is of the reference to debtors. The term employed is creofeile/thß (chreopheiletas), which only shows up twice in the New Testament, here and in the parable of the moneylender with his two debtors (Luke 7:41-42). What is interesting about this is that both of these uses are employed in the context of a parable about forgiveness that is designed to be a rebuke towards Pharisees. The use of the term in the Septuagint does also give us a little bit of light, as in both cases of this term’s use, it is used to speak of someone who has been humbled and put in their place unjustly. In Job 31:37, Job is speaking of how he would present himself before God—righteous and unjustly oppressed—seeking justice, and in Proverbs 29:13, the writer is speaking of how God provides light to both those who are crushed by debt and those who have kept them in poverty. What does this imply? It very well may imply that the reason that this kind of debtor is in debt is because they have been forced unjustly into that debt. Does that imply that this steward really is a crook? Not necessarily, let us explore the parable further before we jump to a conclusion.
There is another question that we must ask. Why does the steward ask the debtor how much he owed to his master? Isn’t that the steward’s business to know? The steward has yet to be released from his position, so the books should still be at his disposal. Why then does he not say, ‘you owe this much…”? In a sense, it is almost as if this steward is asking the debtors how much they say they owe to the master. Could the steward have been charging unlawful interest or fees? Possibly. But it almost seems that there may have been a debate in what the debtors owed and what the steward may have been seeking to charge them. We will bring this question up once again when we look at the steward’s strategy with the debtors, just ask the question, what is it that our Lord is teaching us here? What is this steward really like and how does it fit in with the larger context of the passage? Beloved, don’t take the easy way out of trying to come to terms with some of the more difficult passages of scripture; God has given them to us for a reason and it is our responsibility to learn just what our Lord is saying.