How, then, should we understand the parable?
In conclusion we should ask two questions, once ancient and one modern.
On the one hand, it is argued that this parable is to be understood as a critique of the ways of the unjust economic system prevalent in the advanced agrarian society of first century Galilee. On the other hand, it is posited that, Jesus’ interpretation of the parable consisted primarily of a challenge to the tax collectors and Pharisees present to give up the wealth which they had acquired through that system and thereby be reconciled to the hospitable peasant communities from which their sin (greed) had estranged them. Given these two conclusions we should ask ourselves; was Jesus demanding the impossible of them?
Secondly, as modern readers, does this parable have any relevance to us?
An impossible challenge to the rich of Jesus’ day?
We should not underestimate the steep cost present in Jesus’ challenges to the rich throughout the Gospel of Luke. The story of the unjust steward itself shows that for him to exit the domination system would likely mean a hungry and slow death. The parable told inside of Zacchaeus’ house in Luke 19:26-27 is a good illustration to one who had just renounced the system that such refusal could well lead to his own death. Even when Jesus does not warn of physical death for those who refuse to participate in economic injustice, there is still a common thread of the loss of worldly status, privileges and comforts, which Jesus does not appear to compromise on. How can anyone really risk so much? The human answer is that, yes, it is impossible to expect people to overcome their Darwinian drive to advance, acquire and attain, and to do so at any cost to others. This way of non-participation in the system of sin led, in at least some part, to the execution of Jesus by the strong arm of the Empire that stood behind the system of injustice. But it is in this death of Jesus, and his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God, that we find the answer to this impossible dilemma.
We continue this conclusion in part 11…