Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Luke 16:1-13
Posted by Dim Bulb on September 16, 2010
Luk 16:1 And (but) he said also to his disciples: There was a certain rich man who had a steward: and the same was accused unto him, that he had wasted his goods.
1. It is disputed among Commentators, whether the following parable was spoken immediately after the three preceding ones, at the same time and in the same place. The common opinion, to which the adversative and connecting particle, δέ (de = but), adds much force, is, that it was uttered immediately after them. By a very natural connection, our Lord, after having reproved the Pharisees, who murmured at His mild treatment of sinners, now directly addressing His followers in general, unto the end of time, points out, how wealth should be employed; that almsdeeds are to be added to penance, in order to obtain the grace of repentance for sinners, and perseverance for the just, almsdeeds being obligatory on all. This was, no doubt, indirectly intended for the Pharisees, whose griping avarice, which made them “deride Him” (see vs. 14), He censures in this parable. By the example of the unjust steward, He wishes to show the avaricious Pharisees and all rich men, to the end of time, the prudence they should practise in regard to spiritual matters, the alacrity with which they should shut up “alms in the heart of the poor, as it shall obtain help against all evil” (Eccles. 29:15).
The word, “steward,” as appears from the Greek—οἰκονόμος (oikonomos)—means, a dispenser, who has charge of all his master’s goods. The Vulgate term, ilvillicus,” would refer to a land-steward in charge of the farm. Here it is taken in a wider signification (vers. 5-7). “Was accused.” The Greek word means, denounced, charged.
“Wasted,” by luxurious living; or, byill-conoeived generosity in bestowing presents and the like. It need hardly be remarked that, in their spiritual application, the words, “the rich man ” denotes Almighty God, the Sovereign Lord and Master of all, to whom belongs every thing, the earth and its fulness.
By “the steward” is meant, man, His creature, to whom He confided His goods,
whether gifts of fortune, of nature, or of grace, to be employed, not for man’s own individual advantage; but, for the benefit of His Master, whose steward he is, in the manner He enjoins, and for His honour and glory. From this entire passage, we can clearly see, that in relation to God, whatever may be said of rights secured by human law—no man is absolute proprietor or master of anything he possesses. He is a mere steward or dispenser, and in order to discharge the first duty of every steward, viz., fidelity (1 Cor. 4:2), he must employ his master’s goods solely for his master’s profit. From this, we may also see, that the more God has entrusted to us, the greater the goods of fortune, the gifts of nature or grace confided to our stewardship, the greater shall be the return we must make Him, the heavier our accountability, and the stricter the account demanded at our hands; so that, instead of glorying in the magnitude or multitude of the talents bestowed on us, we should rather tremble at the account we are one day to render of them.
Luk 16:2 And he called him and said to him: How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship: for now thou canst be steward no longer.
2. The master summons his accused steward, states the charge made against him, and calls for an account of his stewardship.
“For, now thou canst be steward no longer” which may mean, that unless, after due investigation, he cleared himself of these charges, in the act of rendering an account, he shall be discharged—Justice would demand he should not be condemned, before due inquiry—or, it may mean, that the notoriety and certainty of his guilt involved dismissal on the spot, and the feelings of the steward himself (verse 3), would convey that, he knew his own guilt, which involved consequent dismissal. In their spiritual application, these words refer to the dread summons issued to every one at the hour of death, to part for ever with their temporal goods, and render an account of their administration. What a dreadful summons to us all! What a momentous
account, on the issue of which will depend an eternity of happiness or woe!
Luk 16:3 And the steward said within himself: What shall I do, because my lord taketh away from me the stewardship? To dig I am not able; to beg I am ashamed.
Luk 16:4 I know what I will do, that when I shall be removed from the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
3-4. Here we have, without any very direct bearing or significance in the aim of the parable,—what, probably, should be regarded as ornamental,—the ingenious contrivance which occurred to the steward for providing against the evil day, when dismissed from the office of steward, upon which, most likely, his livelihood depended. He promptly resolves on a course which, although a fresh proof of his dishonesty, shows, at the same time, his worldly prudence and tact in providing against the evil day. “They may receive me” that is, give me support and maintenance in my necessities.
How applicable are the words, “To dig I am not able; to beg I am ashamed,” to the sad, desolate condition of those who, from their own misconduct and misuse of God’s gifts, spiritual and corporal, are painfully deprived of those occupations, as well sacred as profane, on which their livelihood depended. Having been once “the salt of the earth” and having “lost savour” they are cast out and utterly degraded, being trodden under the feet of men.
Luk 16:5 Therefore, calling together every one of his lord’s debtors, he said to the first: How much dost thou owe my lord?
Luk 16:6 But he said: An hundred barrels of oil. And he said to him: Take thy bill and sit down quickly and write fifty.
5-6. This shows he had general charge of his master’s goods. “Every one of his
lord’s debtors.” So that his fraudulent conduct would be less liable to suspicion than if he only called some, and that all might be under obligation to treat him kindly and generously in the day of need. These two debtors mentioned in verses 5-7, are only examples of all the rest; for he called “every one of his lord’s debtors,” and, no doubt, treated all in the same way, proportionally, as he treated these two. “Anhundred barrels of oil” ” B’arrets,” Greek—βάτος (batos)—a word derived from the Hebrew; in Syriac Matreion, derived from the Greek. “Barrel”—βάτος—was of equal measure with an
Ephi—Batus, for liquids; Ephi, for solids—and each contained the tenth part of a koros, or quarter, as in next verse (See Ezechiel 45:5, 11).
Luk 16:7 Then he said to another: And how much dost thou owe? Who said: An hundred quarters of wheat. He said to him: Take thy bill and write eighty.
7. ” An hundred quarters of wheat.” “Quarters,” in Greek, κόρος (koros). Every corut (“quarter”) was equivalent to ten cadi (“barrels”) in liquids, and ten Ephi, in solids. Hence, the stewards remitted more to the second debtor, to whom he remitted but twenty quarters out of the hundred, than he did to the former, although he remitted fifty out of the hundred, since twenty cori, or “quarters,” contained far more than was contained in fifty cadi or ” barrels.”
“Take thy bill,” in Greek, γράμμα (gramma), his note of hand, the written instrument securing payment, kept in the hands of the steward. This note of hand, the steward hands back to each debtor, for the purpose of destroying it and writing out a new one containing a lesser amount. He tells him to do that “quickly,” implying secrecy, and everyone to do it, implying, that it was done by each one separately.
Luk 16:8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, forasmuch as he had done wisely: for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.
“And the lord commended,” &c, that is, “the lord” of the unjust steward, whose
goods were squandered, on learning how prudently he acted from a worldly, selfish point of view, although naturally indignant at the injustice committed against himself, and this fresh proof of his steward’s dishonesty, still could not help commending the dexterous cunning—”acted wisely”—displayed by him with a view to his own future interests. “The lord” refers to the injured master of the steward, and not to our Lord Jesus Christ, as appears from the next verse, where our Lord speaks of Himself “I say to you,” &c, in pointing out the moral of the parable.
The force of the conclusion would be greater in the interpretation, which understands “Lord” of the injured master of the steward. For, then it would be an argument a minori ad majus, as St. Augustine understands it to be (Lib. 2, Qusest. Evangel. Qusest. 34), conveying, that if the rich man praised the dexterity of his unjust steward, how much more will God commend and reward His faithful servants, who dispense the goods He confided to them according to His good will and pleasure.
Observe, the commendation of the master has not for object the dishonest act of his unjust servant. It is exclusively confined to the prudence he displayed in it. He commended him, “because he had done wisely.” “What is commended, then, on the part of the unjust steward, is his cunning, his cleverness, and this by his temporal lord only. If it be said that at least his example is proposed by our Lord, for our imitation, we answer, not in all respects, and only inasmuch as he showed great prudence and zeal in gaining his end. The steward acted unjustly; and no one was less likely to praise him for that, than the master whose good he wasted; but he acted also prudently, cleverly, according to the wisdom of the flesh, determined, as far as he could, not to lose all when deprived of his place ; and for that foresight, he is praised even by his injured master. When St. Paul calls on the Eomans to serve justice unto sanctification with the same zeal with which they served iniquity before (Rom. 6:19), does he thereby approve of the object of their former zeal? We
may praise the actor’s skill without approving the play, or the robber’s courage without extolling felony, or even the duellist’s aim without extenuating the fearful guilt of murder. It is the prudence of the steward, and that alone, and not his unjust conduct, that is eulogized. The wisdom of the children of this world is praised, not the end to which that wisdom is directed, as is more evident still from what follows. The enemies of Christianity labour, therefore, in vain to find in these words any commendation of injustice” (Dr. MacCarthy, in hunc locum).
“For the children of this world,” a Hebrew phrase, as are also the words, “children of light.” These are the words of our Redeemer, conveying to us, that the votaries of this darksome world, and those who live according to its ideas and maxims—so opposed to truth and “light”—”are wiser in their generation,” in adopting means for attaining their worldly ends, and securing perishable riches—the only thing worldlings value and esteem—”than the children of light ” the sons of God, who profess to live by the light of the Gospel, which God has mercifully shed upon them, are,in the adoption of proper means for securing their end, the enjoyment of imperishable goods and eternal happiness. Our Lord adds this, lest He might appear to commend the dishonest conduct of the steward. He only refers to the steward’s conduct, in order to stimulate His followers to greater zeal in attaining their end, than worldlings do in attaining theirs. By contrasting the prudence of worldlings, “the wisdom of the flesh, which is death” with the prudence of His followers; or “the children of light,” which is “the wisdom of the spirit, which is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6), our Lord wishes His followers to display greater zeal in their way, than wordlings do in theirs. Here naturally suggests itself the solemn reflection on the wisdom of salvation. As the wise man refers the sluggard to the industry of the little ant, so our Lord refers us to the industry and care which worldlings employ in their business in attaining their worldly ends. What is every other wisdom, but folly, unless it conducts us to the
end of our creation? What can everything else avail, if we miss this? “Quid
prodest homini si universum mundum?” &c. What comparison between the passing gratification of the brutal passions of the body, in which we are become like the brute beasts, “the horse and mule that have no understanding”—gratification, which lasts but a moment, and is succeeded by bitterness and remorse—and the eternal enjoyment of the spiritual and heavenly delights, for which the immortal soul of man is made?
Luk 16:9 And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity: that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.
9. “And I say unto you.” This is the conclusion drawn from the above parable by our Lord for the guidance of His followers at all times. “I” and “you,” are very emphatic. The steward said to himself, I know what I shall do; I shall make friends for myself of my master’s debtors. I say also to you, imitating the steward’s cunning and prudence, do you also make friends for yourselves out of the unjust, unrighteous mammon, which your Sovereign Master has deposited in your hands, to be dispensed by you, as faithful stewards, according to His will, by laying up your riches in the bosom of the poor, “that when you shall fail,” and shall be deprived of the stewardship at the hour of death, when you shall be called upon to render an account of your dispensation, “they” like the master’s debtors, whom the steward desired to conciliate in order to be admitted into their houses, “may receive you into” their houses, in the kingdom which is properly theirs (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20), houses, or “tabernacles,” which are to endure for ever.
“Mammon of iniquity,” a common Hebraism for unrighteous, iniquitous mammon. “Mammon ” is a Syriac word, signifying riches (Matthew 6:24). Riches are termed iniquitous or unjust for several reasons, either, because they are, generally speaking, the fruit of injustice on the part of our forefathers, by rapine, plunder, &c, or, on our own part. Hence, the common phrase, “dives aut injustus aut hæres injusti,” quoted by St. Jerome (Ep. 1, ad Hebridiam, Qusest. 1), and as the heir of injustice knows not precisely to whom he should make restitution, he should give it to the poor; or, because they occasion injustice in their possessors, unless greatly on their guard, such as pride, avarice, luxury. In this way St. Paul terms concupiscence “sin” being the cause and effect of sin, “quod habitat in me peccatum” (Rom. 7:17); or, because, it is the unrighteous or unjust alone, that regard riches as their sovereign good, place their whole trust in them, and value them unduly, although false, deceitful, and transitory, never satisfying the human heart; the just, on the other hand, in possessing riches, regard them as transitory, and value heavenly riches alone; or, because, men often regard the riches they possess as absolutely their own, whereas, in reality they are God’s, to whom belongs the earth and its fulness. Men, in reference to God, hold them by the mere title of dispensation or stewardship. This latter meaning well suits the parable, in which God is signified by the “rich man.” We are only stewards, who unjustly employ for our own selfish ends what belongs to Him. Riches are not unjust or unrighteous of themselves, but only in their abuse.
“When you fail.” When at death, you are called upon to render an account of
your stewardship, now to be taken away from you.
“They may receive you,” or, rather, God shall admit you, owing, in some cases, to their intercession, into His heavenly kingdom, which is peculiarly the inheritance of the poor; but He shall do so, especially in consideration of the pure motive of charity, which dictates the giving of alms to the poor, which are, therefore, given to Himself, whom they represent. This latter reason will hold, whether there be question of the faithful and just poor, themselves occupants of heaven, or of the unjust poor excluded from it, when we relieve them for God’s sake, whom in their poverty they represent.
“Into everlasting dwellings,” which peculiarly belong to the poor, as such. No
doubt, many among the poor shall be excluded, who die impenitent, and many among the rich admitted, who shall merit by their charity the graces necessary to fulfil the other precepts of God. For, mere alms-giving will not save; but, alms-giving will move God to grant forgiveness of sin and the graces necessary for salvation. The rich have great difficulties in gaining heaven ; and from this passage, it is clear, that unless they discharge the duty of alms-giving they shall be excluded from God’s everlasting kingdom. “Everlasting” solid, enduring mansions, in opposition to these dwellings “made with hands ” in this world, whose duration is but temporary.
From this entire passage is clearly seen the duty of relieving the poor by almsgiving under pain of exclusion from the kingdom of heaven. We are mere stewards of the goods we possess in this world. If we appropriate them to our own use, instead of dispensing them according to the will and for the interests of our Master, we act the part of unjust, unfaithful stewards; and we shall be excluded from God’s everlasting mansions, when the accounting day arrives.
The precept of alms-giving may be also clearly seen from the providence of God in the present order of things. While arranging the unequal distribution of earthly goods, He appoints the rich as His own stewards and representatives in regard to His poor. In order to bind together more firmly the several members of the great human family, He has ordered that they should mutually depend on each other, as He had done in regard to the several members of the human body; and He has made the reciprocal exhibition of love, the great bond of indissoluble union. When the rich, then, neglect to succour their indigent brethren, and follow not the example of Him whose place they hold, Who “opens His hand and fills every animal with benediction;” Who “makes His sunfrom heaven rise on the good and bad, and rains upon thejust and the unjust,” they become instrumental in subverting the order of Providence, established by God. Through them His name is blasphemed; and an order of things established directly at variance with His divine ordinances; and their neglect made chargeable, with wicked men, on His infinite goodness and wisdom. Hence, our Lord regards the salvation of a rich man as so very difficult; because, it is so hard to find a rich man who complies, to the requisite extent, with the precept of relieving the poor.
The same precept is clearly referred to (1 John 3:17), where He condemns
those who, having a knowledge of their neighbour’s wants, and the means of relieving him, still neglect doing so. Also, James 1:13-27; 2:15; Matthew 25:34-46. The same may be also clearly seen from the fate of the hard-hearted rich man, whose history and miserable end are given towards the close of this chapter, vv. 19-31.
Luk 16:10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater: and he that is unjust in that which is little is unjust also in that which is greater.
Luk 16:11 If then you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon, who will trust you with that which is the true?
Luk 16:12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?
10-12. Our Redeemer would seem to have for object in these three verses, to
inculcate charity towards the poor, and the faithful discharge, on the part of the rich, of their office as stewards, in the dispensation of the goods of this world, which, properly speaking, are God’s. This He inculcates, on the ground, that infidelity in the discharge of their office, of properly dispensing temporal goods, would entail the withholding or withdrawal from them, of spiritual goods, and their final exclusion from the eternal bliss, for obtaining which spiritual gifts and graces are indispensable. He also inculcates due correspondence with spiritual graces, and the proper use of them.
“He that is faithful in that which is least,” &c. This is an adagial expression,
founded on the common opinion of mankind and experience, conveying what generally happens. It is understood of fidelity or want of fidelity in small things, arising from an innate principle of honesty or dishonesty. Men who find their servants honest in small things regard them as deserving of credit in regard to great things. Hence, we find the reward given in the Gospel, “quia super pauca fuisti fidelis, super multa te constituam,” &c. “The least” and “little,” are generally understood of temporal matters, which are “little” compared with spiritual treasures; and “greater” of the more precious treasures of the spiritual life. The man, who is not faithful in the administration of temporal goods, according to the will of God, shows that he does not deserve to be entrusted with the spiritual treasures of grace, which he would be sure to employ unprofitably. “Si quis domui suæ præsse nescit, quomodo Ecclesiæ Dei diligentiam habebit?” (1 Timothy 3:5.)
Luk 16:11 If then you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon, who will trust you with that which is the true?
11. This is an inference from the foregoing adage “If you have not been faithful,” in the dispensation of “unjust mammon,” the goods of this world, which are fugitive, uncertain, deceitful and never satisfy the cravings of the human heart, “who will trust you with that which is true?” He refers to the spiritual treasures of grace, which are in reality “true” riches, alone capable of satisfying the heart, alone conducting to the true and permanent end for which we were created. This may be understood of all men, to whom God commits His treasures of grace, to be employed by them for their own sanctification and final salvation. Our Lord here threatens the rich and avaricious, that by the misuse of temporal wealth, they will deserve to be refused spiritual graces, or, to have the graces which they possess, withdrawn from them. In verse 9, He proposes the reward of alms-deeds; in these verses, the punishment of neglecting it.
Luk 16:12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?
12. “Another’s,” temporal wealth, which belongs to God—like that which the
steward squandered—given as His own to us for administration. We have merely the use of it from Him. Riches were never ours ; we brought none of them into this world, nor shall we bring any out of it. They are external to us, and by no means belong to us, foreign to the rational and spiritual nature of man. “Your own,” the spiritual treasures of grace, which may be called ” our own,” because they remain with us; they adhere to us, and conduct us to our last end, for which we were destined and created, and which we cannot lose. “Who will give?” &c. No one; God will withhold or take away spiritual goods in punishment of our abuse or maladministration of the temporal goods confided to our stewardship (Psalm 48:17, 18; Job 27:19).
Luk 16:13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other: or he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
13. Our Lord in this verse employs an adage founded on experience, regarding the impossibility of serving two masters of opposite characters, demanding opposite and contrary things, in order to dissuade His followers, and the Pharisees, also, whom He specially censures, from the pursuit of avarice. (See Matthew 6:24, Commentary on.) The adage is suggested by the idea, that those who neglect alms-deeds, show an inordinate attachment to riches, which they serve as an idol. Now, such service is incompatible with the service of God. We can serve only one or the other.