The parable of the unjust steward makes sense when we know that, in Jesus’ day, it was accepted practice for stewards to make their money by charging their employers’ stipulated price plus as much overage as the market would allow. The overage constituted their commission. The break that the steward gave his customers in the parable was a loss he took to insure their good will when he was out of a job and in need of their help.
We can understand the parable as simply counseling prudence. The context of the narrative, however, is Jesus’ teaching about God’s coming Kingdom and his encouragement to live in harmony with it. That’s the point.
The world is changing, Jesus kept telling people. God is doing something wonderful but also something dangerous for those determined to keep doing business in the same old way. The gospel message isn’t just a nice piece of information; it’s a call, even a warning, to make sure that we are on the right side of the future and placing our bets on the Creator’s vision rather than the vision of those maintaining the status quo.
Bells ought to go off when someone says that this or that policy is in the best interest of business or the country, our finances or even our kids’ futures. What future is being advanced? Is it business as usual or is it the future God is offering? That’s a difficult question. It’s difficult because merely asking it makes demands of us – costly, even dangerous demands. It’s difficult because it’s often hard to know the direction in which God’s future lies or the specific path to follow towards it. It’s a question that those who’ve preceded us know we will never ask unless we stay close to the life and example of Jesus and the support of others who share his faith.