23 September 2013

Why Does the Dishonest Steward Receive Praise?

A reader comment from this week: 
Why do you think today's parable refers to the dishonest servant as prudent after he reduces the debts of his master's creditors in order to win favor with them? 
The comment refers to this comment from this Sunday's Gospel:
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. 

So, what is going on here?

My best guess runs along the historical/social/political lines.

Stewards were tasked to manage the properties and goods of landowners and make profits for them.  Along the way, they were able to arbitrarily charge interest to the goods loaned to others: anything over and above what the master expected to make was theirs to keep.  In other words, when the steward has the debtors change their promissory notes, he is likely giving up his "cut" of the interest that was owed over and above what was owed his master.  By erasing his commission, so to speak, he was attempting to win favor with the debtors before his dismissal.  Thus, the changing of the promissory notes is prudent: not dishonest.

We're left, then, to figure that the steward did something else to get fired: changing the interest he was skimming (rightfully) wasn't what got him into trouble.

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