Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Give an account

This directive to the unjust steward to “give an account” is reminiscent of the instructions of Ezra to the twelve. This directive is also comparable the demand required prior to initiating legal proceedings in a collection case. In this instance it appears the unjust steward falsified an account which, under the modern criminal laws, is one of the elements of a theft by a fiduciary. The falsification was necessary to conceal missing funds. What is missing is that the rich man is not the real owner. The high priestly families owned and controlled a lot of real estate. In the original scheme of things, the priests were not to own any land but were supposed to be solely dependent upon contributions. What the high priests did was seize the land of persons who had defaulted on their loans obtained from the Temple. In the process the high priests took for themselves the collateral that should have been owned by the Temple. This economic fraud committed has never been fully developed within the context of the Lucan parables.

The crime of a fiduciary falsifying an account is a modern concept. When money was transferred to a person who was supposed to transfer it to a third person and the person in the middle stole the money it was not viewed as a crime but a business problem to be sorted out in civil court. In one Pennsylvania case cited by the Model Penal Code draftsmen as an example of the confusion in this area, an employer-defendant was acquitted of fraudulent conversion because his failure to pay a grocer on behalf of employees who had authorized him to deduct from their wages the amounts of their grocery bills was not seen as involving any money technically belonging to the employees. Hence, the only wrongdoing found by the Pennsylvania court was civil breach of contract. In fact it is still viewed this way when the executor of an estate or trustee steal a little bit of money. The Pennsylvania statute and the statutes of other jurisdictions adopting the Model Penal Code now criminalize conduct where the actors in question are “merely conduits for the transmission of money to persons designated by the real owner of the money.” With this background it easy to understand why first century people did not consider the steward of the Parable of the Unjust steward to be walking away with the temple treasury since he was stealing it from the people making the donations and or stealing the sums being used to pay rent or to pay off the temple loans made from the sacred money.

There was a surprising response to the conduct of the unjust steward in falsifying his account. The verb παινω expresses praise for the manager’s prudence. It also reflects the official act of approval or ratification of the account. We are shocked that the master in the words of the RSV “commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness.” The approval of the account makes sense if the “steward” was really the one of treasurers of the temple and the goods belonged to the temple. The Lucan Jesus understood and perhaps the phrase “and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” is best understood in this context.

This parable may in fact represent one of the strongest attacks on the temple establishment issued by the Lucan Jesus. However, it is not until we reach the Lucan Parable of the Wicked Tenants do we appreciate against whom the attack is directed. It is, like the original Song of the Vineyard, directed against those who have accumulated excessive wealth at the expense of the peasants. These individuals are identified by Luke as the chief priests and scribes, the religious aristocracy of the Temple.

Copyrighted 2006


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