Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.”
By ‘the Mammon of iniquity’ was meant wealth or greed for wealth. “Make friends with the Mammon of iniquity,” an old translation used to say. It was hard to understand why we were being told to make friends with it. But when you look at the word ‘with’, the penny drops: we were being told to make friends by means of it. This is what the manager did with his master’s wealth. The newer translations (including the present one) avoids all that confusion.
There the clarity ends. What follows the parable is a list of barely consistent applications. A scholar says that it represents “early Christian moralising,” an assortment of attempts (the first of many) to make sense of this rather unedifying story.
When interpreting parables we should restrict our attention to the single point that the parable makes. But what is that point in this case? Be astute: that's one. But then there follow all the others in today’s reading! Which one did Jesus intend?
Someone said (in relation to philosophical texts) that the meaning of a text is the history of its meaning. In other words, it means all the things that people have ever thought it to mean. This seems a very unruly principle, like a hedge grown wild. But it’s not as bad as it sounds: 1. our Christian instinct will be a fairly reliable guide in excluding any unchristian interpretations; and 2. it means that we really respect and listen to every interpretation it has ever received. (And that means respecting the people who went before us.)
|Back to calendar|