Illustration: The Parable of the Un Just Steward (Public Domain)
In his book: “The Mark”, Maurice Nicoll points out that the name usually attributed to this parable is incorrect. The man is never referred to as: “the un just steward”, nor as: “the un righteous steward”. The correct interpretation is: “The Steward of the Mammon of Un righteousness” and this “mammon” is also referred to as: “the least”. Thus the parable speaks of being: “faithful in the least”.
What must first be appreciated here is that the parable is NOT about real debtors, real masters, or anything physical. In the same way that the story of Joseph interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh’s two servants, also referred to as “stewards”, has anything to do with real wine or real bread or cakes. Likewise, when we read the Book of Nehemiah the story of the Persian king sending his “wine steward” to help with the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the temple, we can easily appreciate that all these stories are rooted in metaphors.
One of the major points that Maurice Nicoll makes in his book is that the word: “faith” has nothing to do with “mere belief” or “blind devotion”. “Faith” in the Gospels has to do with: “a new way of perceiving the world”, one not based on the physical senses, but in our internal level of understanding.
Thus, “the steward” does not have: “faith in mammon”, but rather: “a new perception of what is mammon and its true worth”.
What needs to be grasped here is that, if these stories are not the literal truth, then, when selecting an example, any substance would have been as good as any other substance. Thus, the debtors could have been said to owe the master 50 gold coins or a hundred sheep. Pharaoh’s servants could have been responsible for a fruit orchard or a herd of cattle. The Persian king’s servant could have been a night watchman.
BUT !!! because we assume that these stories are divinely inspired, then each aspect of them must represent something special. So, oil is used to anoint messiahs, the Torah is referred to as: “the bread of life”, wine, in the gospels, is referred to as: “the blood of Christ”, etc, etc.
In a previous article we spoke of the Riddle of Samson and that “plowing a field with a heifer” was a metaphor for: “studying in a school”. Hence, it should come as no surprise that, of all the conceivable professions the steward could have mentioned as a source of potential employment, the steward says that he cannot dig holes in the ground (i.e. “he can’t study in a religious school”).
It also says that he cannot beg….
But: Why not?
After all, studying in a religious school is considered one of the highest callings a person can have in Judaism and Jews are constantly asking for money for various good causes.
The key, I believe, is the concept of: “sense based perceptions”.
In the Gospels Jesus is reported to have given the same answer to both the Jewish religious authorities and to Pontus Pilate. In short: when asked: “If he is the king of the Jews and the messiah?”, he replies: “So you say”.
In other words: what these stories are implying is that the conception of: “What is a messiah?” for BOTH the Romans and the Jews was rooted in the physical senses. Unfortunately, these misunderstandings persist right up till the present moment. Hence, based on the teachings of the rabbis, millions of Jews in the United States wait for: “a physical messiah” who will lift them up on eagle’s wings and bring them to the Promised Land, even though they know that 3 million religious Jews in Poland died unnecessarily because they listened to the same stories. And, of course, almost all Christians, especially Roman Catholics, believe that Jesus will return to the earth in a physical body and usher in the messianic age.
So then: What is the parable actually talking about, if not a physical world?
Obviously: an internal, psychological world.
Let us agree that a steward is not a person who produces something, he merely manages what he has been given. Thus, “his master” had given him a message, or a teaching, and he had mismanaged (or misunderstood it) in some way and was now been sent back (or has regressed) to the sense based world of perceptions.
Yet, the steward was in contact with this higher source of knowledge, hence “he cannot dig” (i.e. maybe he misunderstood the full message, but he understood enough to know that the way to higher understanding is not via religious schools).
Likewise, he can’t beg, because in the language of the metaphors found in the Gospels: “money” is a metaphor for: “teachings”, hence the “workers in the vineyard” each received a penny. In other words: the steward knows whatever knowledge “the community” has to offer him is worthless.
But: What community? We just said that the teachings were internal. Who is the community? Who are the debtors? For that matter: What exactly is it that they owe?
The Gospels say that a man cannot serve both the lord and mammon. And, we noted in the beginning of this article that mammon should be associated with unrighteousness. If this is correct, then it implies that the lord is a source of righteousness and that beliefs based on the senses are a source of unrighteousness.
Oil, in ancient times, was used in lamps as a source of light. Thus a messiah is an enlightened being and this is symbolized by pouring olive oil over his head. If the Torah is the bread of life, then wheat symbolizes the basic knowledge upon which religious scholarship is based. Hence, eventually, Joseph’s sole function was to supervise the wheat production of Egypt (i.e. he established a network of religious schools and this is why he married the daughter of the high priest).
Yet, our steward does not preserve or manage the oil or the wheat. To the contrary, he tells the debtors that they no longer need to pay these “debts” to their lord.
In conclusion, he is described as being “wise about the least”.
What does that mean?
Obviously, every individual hears internal voices which push us in a certain direction. Some of these voices tell us that: “we must obtain enlightenment” in order to reach a state of godliness. Other voices tell us: “we must study” in order to reach a state of godliness. Apparently, “the steward” believed these voices and this is why his lord told him he had mis managed the lord’s affairs. The steward, realizing his mistake, sought to make “peace within himself”. He somehow was able to “cancelled some of the debts” he felt he owed and began to live a more relaxed and less stressful lifestyle.
This does not mean that scholarship and enlightened ideas are totally worthless, otherwise he would have cancelled the debts entirely; only that the steward began to understand that in order to follow the voice of the lord , he needed to quell within himself, the internal opinions, based on the physical senses, which forced him to focus on the teachings and values of men. Thus he became: “a wise steward of the mammon of unrighteousness”. He did not totally eliminate the internal voices which compel men to act in a certain way, yet he placed these sense based opinions into a more proper, or just, perspective.