Think about those old fashioned scales. You know, the ones where on one side you put the object to be weighed (maybe a tomato) onto the suspended plate, and on the other side you put some metal weights so that you can figure out how much the object weighs. Do you remember those? Do you have those old scales clearly in mind?
Good. It is an important image to hold in your imagination in order to understand what this parable is about.
In the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) there was a measure of justice that went something like this: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” The image being that if someone punched you and knocked out one of your teeth, the extent of the retribution you could have upon them is to knock out one of their teeth.
You were not allowed to knock out two teeth because you were really mad. Just one. A tooth for a tooth.
Imagine those old scales again. The scales have to be weighed equally. God cares that things are brought back to a position of equality.
So, if someone came up to you and stole your coat, thereby tipping the scales of justice in their favor, and they were caught, the judge would make them do one of three things: return the coat, give you another coat of equal value, or make them work off the cost of the coat.
All of these solutions would again balance the scales of justice back to equilibrium. God cares that things are brought back to a position of equality.
For God, this is all about fairness. This is about bringing things back to a state of peace.
It is also about making certain that people do not seek to punish more harshly than was done to them.
“Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord. And, might I add, “Vengeance is not yours.” No taking out two eyes for the cost of one. An eye for an eye.
This all makes sense. But, I bet you have not ever thought about this in terms of economics. God is clear in the Bible that it is not holy to charge interest to one of your countrymen.
God says in Deuteronomy 23:19-20, “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.”
You see, if you cannot knock out two teeth for the price of one when seeking justice, you certainly cannot have two dollars for the price of one when lending money. God says that is not fair. The scales of justice must be equal.
And, God goes even further on this equality with your neighbor thing, “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.”
These economic principles are at play in the parable of the terrible, slimy, shrewd steward.
You see, there was a steward that was handling his master’s financial affairs. In the ancient world, it was common to charge 50% interest on a loan. That, presumably, is what the master has done; lent out money with 50% interest. The steward could add another 20% on top for his own fees. He has, presumably, done that also.
This all goes against God’s sense of justice that demands no interest…in case you did not catch that. But, it is the way of the times, as they say.
This steward has done even worse though, and broken even conventional lending rules and taken more wealth for himself.
When he is caught and his job is at stake, the sly little pipsqueak decides to make friends for himself so that someone might support him (at no interest I might add) as a “brother who has become poor.”
He goes to one and cancels out the 20% interest that is owed to himself as the steward. He goes to another and cancels the original 50% interest that is owed on some jugs of oil to his master.
In order to save his own back end, he just now decides to become holy and tip the scales of justice back to God’s standard of equality.
He is shockingly commended for doing it. But, the acts of forgiveness look good for himself, it shines a light of possibly undeserved holiness on the master, and both are now seen to be in conformity with God’s desires by those in the community.
Is he still a sly little pipsqueak? Yes, of course he is. But, he has taken his first step in living a holy life where the scales are always set equally in the middle.
God is a God of second chances after-all. Just as a younger brother who squanders his father’s wealth is embraced with love and a second chance upon returning, so too this shrewd little jerk is embraced upon his own return.
God does that you know. God embraces those who return to the holy, even if they do not really deserve it.
Maybe, the undeserved love will change things. Maybe the undeserved love will change the steward. Maybe. Maybe not. But, God is willing to take the chance.
One thing is certain though, in the kingdom of God, you cannot love God and money.
If you use your to money to exploit people, especially the poor, God is not going to trust you with anything else! God is love, God is not about making money.
People just cannot get rich off of the misfortune of other people and expect to be entrusted with the love of God, because those actions are not loving.
No interest allowed for the people of God. No exploitation allowed. Only love and forgiveness allowed. Only love and forgiveness.
After-all love and forgiveness is what has been shown to us. On the cross, we are only given a bill of love and forgiveness by Jesus, no interest on the debts of our sin required to be paid in full.
In the least, the people of God are to ask nothing more than what would equal out the scales. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
But, the most holy thing is summed up by Jesus himself, “And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
For God has lent God’s only son to love you, and nothing expected in return.