Let me share this. Try reading the prodigal and the unjust without chapter breaks. I think you will see that they are parallels. This is from a commentary I have.
- Each has a noble master who demonstrates extraordinary grace to a wayward underling.
- Both stories contain an ignoble son/steward who wastes the master’s resources.
- In each the wayward underling reaches a moment of truth regarding those losses.
- In both cases the son/steward throws himself on the mercy of the noble master.
- Both parables deal with broken trust and the problems resulting from it.
Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 332). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
To get the full impact of what is transpiring in this parable you have to understand it in the middle eastern honor/shame paradigm. If you don’t I think you will find yourself forcing an explanation.
Things that you would understand if you lived then/there. Here is my summary of the explanation:
Master and steward:
• The charges against the steward are credible, not hear say.
• When presented to the steward he did not deny or appeal he accepted the fact that he was caught. (ordinally the accused would appeal based on work history or family loyalty)
• The master is of good character and above reproach. The steward is a liar and a cheat. They are not co-conspirators nor are they “evil”.
• From the moment the steward accepts his dismissal everything he does after that is illegal and would be understood so by the hearers.
“The appointment and powers of the agent may be revoked at any time with or without good cause, and whatever the agent does after revocation is not binding on the principle. It takes effect, however, only from the time that it is brought home to the agent or the person with whom he is dealing.”
George Horowitz, The Spirit of Jewish Law (New York: Central Book, 1953), p. 542.
• Realizes that he is in a tight spot. He won’t be able to get work as a manger again and he cannot/will not do common labor nor will he beg.
• It dawns on him that he has the master’s books in his possession and the power to make a name for himself. After the dust settles he will be popular with the local as well as shrewd, think Robin Hood. Because of his fame he will land on his feet. As a reminder anything done with the master’s money from this point forward is illegal and the audience is in full knowledge of this fact.
Steward and debtors:
• He calls in the debtors (farmers who rent the land) individually to ask them what they owe the master. (generally, it would be the other way round, the master would tell you what you owed) and because of this he has now opened the door for these men to become confederates unknowingly in this thievery. You would never expect an underling to administer the master property without assuming that the steward had his, the master’s, authority.
• Each farmer writes in his own hand his new debt as dictated by the steward knowing full well that this was highly unusual.
Note: The total of the theft was the equivalent of 1 ½ yrs wage each.
Another thing to keep in mind on the honor/shame side. The is idead of public propriety and private awareness. The debtors could publicly claim ingornace of the fact that the steward was fired but privately they could accept the a side deal, we might say a taste, that would benefit both parties.
Because the deal was done in private there would be no recourse for either party as there were no witnesses. Without witnesses it is a he said she said defense.
• The steward knew exactly what he was doing, in the vernacular of the day he was shrewd!
• The steward gathers up the books and the new bills and returns them to the master.
• The master knows that he has been taken to the cleaners. He can go to the village and reverse what the village now thinks was a very generous gift from a very generous master or he can acknowledge the shrewdness of the corrupt steward which he does.
• Now the steward and the master are heroes in the village and steward has guaranteed himself a new position because of his shrewdness.
• The steward was the recipient of master grace once already but knowing his (the master’s) character he rolled the dice one more time knowing that the master was merciful and would pardon him again.
This is from the commentary: Bold is my emphasis.
“The parable is a “Tom and Jerry” story. The little mouse matches wits with the big cat and wins. The parable is built on the psychology of an oppressed peasantry, such as is known to have existed in Galilee at the time of Jesus. The steward is a Robin Hood figure, a countercultural hero. But at the end of the story, Jesus calls him “a son of this age/world**.” He is smart enough to know that his only hope is to put his entire trust in the unqualified mercy of his generous master.** His morals are deplorable. Nonetheless, Jesus wants “the sons of light” to use their intelligence, like the dishonest steward, and to trust completely in the mercy of God for their salvation. The prodigal son made a similar decision.”
Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 341). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
I hope this was helpful.
As aside note in the 4th century Julian the apostate used this text to teach that Jesus taught his disciples to lie and steal.
“Julian was wrong. Jesus does not teach his disciples to lie and cheat. Using the psychology of an oppressed peasantry, Jesus creates a parable with profound theological and ethical resonances.”
Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 342). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.