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Tuesday of Trinity 9: The Wasting of the Rich Man’s Goods

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He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’”

The rich man. The steward. The accusation. The wasting of goods. The accounting. Earthly concepts with heavenly meanings. The earthly concepts are easy. The heavenly meanings are more difficult.

The rich man, we could comfortably say, is probably God. Although some don’t think so. They claim the rich man was himself corrupt. Some argue he was charging interest, and when the steward erased the interest percentages, he couldn’t go back on it because he’d be exposed as a law-breaking interest-charger. So, the rich man’s praise was that of one dishonest character praising another for his dishonesty.

I”m going to go with the “God” interpretation, because God is almost always the highest character in a parable – I can’t think of one off hand where He’s not.

The steward is someone God puts in charge of His “goods.” The word means “what belongs to someone,” or “property.” The whole world belongs to God. This would make Adam the premier steward, and all born of him. The wasting of goods would then be original sin. We turned a perfect world into a place of sin and death, a desert. Our accounting is death.

A big support for this interpretation is how Jesus interprets the parable later. He basically says we’re all the steward. “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” Notice the phrase, “when you fail.” He’s talking to all of us and He says, “when you fail.” Not if you fail, but when. We all will fail. We all will have to give an account of our wasting of goods.

The “make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon” basically means, use the mammon-based principle of tit for tat when considering those who will have power to judge you. Now, we know that Christ is the final judge, so He is the one we must befriend. And yes, the “tit for tat” way of looking at Christ is an earthly way of looking at things, but isn’t that exactly what Jesus is saying? But, look at Acts 2. Peter preaches the first Christian sermon, climaxing his message with the truth that Jesus sits at God’s right hand and will come again to judge the world. The people are terrified and say, “What must we do?” They’re looking for a tit for tat solution!

So, we need to befriend Jesus. But in the parable, the steward befriends the debtors. How are the debtors Jesus? We’ll leave this for a later devotion.

For today, if we run with this interpretation, our focus is on the wasting of goods. As we see, we can’t really get a handle on one concept without fleshing out all the other details. Jesus says, as far as interpretation of this parable goes, everyone fails; everyone’s the steward. That puts cosmic significance onto what it means to “waste goods.” It’s original sin. It’s our sinning. Sinning is a wasting of goods.

Well of course it is! Isn’t that the massive downside of sin? Instead of tending to a beautiful garden and participating in the abundance of life, sin is a wasting away of life. Godlessness, pride, rebellion, hatred, anger, lust, adultery, theft, lying, slander, and covetousness. Do these things not corrode the human soul? Do they not waste the precious life God has given us?

And there is an accounting for these sins. In the parable, the “hero,” so to speak, has a switch in how he perceives the indebted ones. Before he took advantage of them; now he befriends them. He does it for tit for tat reasons, to save his own hide. But at a certain profound, if perverse, level, he’s submitting to the “rules” of the world set up by the rich man. He’s not abandoning this world. He’s seeking to make things right within the parameters of this world.

It’s like the hearers of the Sermon on the Mount, just having been pounded on with some of the most difficult teaching in Scripture, recognizing in Jesus the divine authority. The thinking is, “I’m not so sure about all these teachings – whether I or anyone can live up to them – but this Jesus guy is where it’s at. I’d better stick with Him.” Tit for tat.

The emphasis on this parable cannot be about the wasting of goods. Jesus assumes this for all of us: when you fail. The emphasis should be about what this leads us to do. If it leads to a change in heart about how to approach the indebted ones, then we’re on the right track.

 

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