I think Jesus told this story and Luke repeated it to help us think about what it means to live as followers of Jesus in a world like this. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor and release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, and set the prisoners free. Think of this parable not as a story as Jesus’ invitation to join him in an effort to turn the world upside down.
William Herzog, a biblical scholar, calls the parables “subversive speech,” and I think he is right to call all the parables subversive. The purpose of the parables is to get us thinking about being followers of the way of Jesus. That’s what the first Christians called themselves, “a People of the Way.” They were part of a countercultural movement. Their aim was not just to upset the status quo, but to replace it.
Not surprisingly, someone starts a rumor about him. Maybe the master had decided that the manager is getting too much power and it’s time for him to go. Maybe an important debtor is unhappy. Maybe someone wants the manager’s job. We don’t know the source of the complaint but it’s enough to get him fired. The master calls the manager into his office and gives him a pink slip and tells him to go home. That’s what happens in verses one and two.
In verse three the now unemployed manager assesses his situation. He has little chance of competing with day workers for their jobs. Asking the person who just fired him for a second change isn’t going to work. There is no chance of getting a good recommendation for another job. Herzog characterizes the manager’s unemployment as a death sentence. The manager is about to join Lazarus sitting at the gate of the rich man begging for food. The situation is critical. “What shall I do?” That’s the central question in verse three. This is an existential crisis. Think of what happens today when someone is fired in this manner. They don’t just lose a paycheck, their income. They might lose their health insurance, maybe their car, their house. What shall I do? That’s a hard question.
I want to say that receiving the pink slip is the manager’s Damascus Road encounter. It is a conversion experience. He has been blind-sided. Suddenly he is no longer working for the one percent, he has joined the ninety-nine percenters. The parable is no longer about the dishonest steward. The question now is: What is our responsibility in such a world as this? What shall I do? That is, “what is my responsibility?”
I am interpreting this parable as a story of religious conversion and spiritual awakening. The pink slip forced the steward to assess his situation and think about his choices and come up with a plan of action. He thought he was going to find himself living on the streets, but then realized to his own amazement that he could become an agent of change working to create a new society.
Rev. Dr. David Hansen