The prodigal steward?

In his exegesis of the parable of the unjust steward (see previous post), Kenneth Bailey draws attention to the parallels between this parable and the one that precedes it in Luke’s account, the parable of the prodigal son.

Some of these parallels are quite technical, but some of the more straightforward examples cited by Bailey are:

2. In Luke 15 a son throws himself on the mercy of his father. In Luke 16 a servant throws himself on the mercy of his master.

4. Both the steward and the son betray a trust.

5. Neither prodigal nor steward offers excuses.

7. Both the steward and the prodigal experience extraordinary mercy from their superiors.

8. In both stories, there is a missing final scene. We do not know the final response of the older son or the final result of the steward’s act.

Another parallel that occurs to me is that of Jacob and Esau. A number of commentators (including Bailey and N.T. Wright) have drawn parallels between the prodigal son and Jacob.

The account of the steward’s cunning plan to restore his reputation at his master’s expense reminds me of Genesis 30:25-43, in which Jacob comprehensively outwits his rich uncle Laban. Both are stories calculated to delight a peasant audience. As Bailey points out:

The storyteller in the East always has a series of stories about the clever fellow who won out over the “Mister Big” of his community.

What is remarkable about the account of the dishonest steward is the criticism Jesus makes of him at the end of the story, calling him “unrighteous” and a “son of darkness”:

The average Oriental storyteller would not feel any compulsion to add such a corrective to this type of story. Thus the Western listener/reader is surprised at the use of a dishonest man as a hero. The Eastern listener/reader is surprised that such a hero is criticized.

Certainly the account of Jacob does not include such explicit criticism of his conduct. Yet even there we can see that it is not the cocky, smart-alec Jacob who gains entry back into the land of promise, but the Jacob who has wrestled with God and been crippled and renamed in the process, the Jacob who ends his life not with boasting about his exploits, but telling Pharaoh that “few and hard have been the years of my life. They do not compare with the years of the life of my ancestors…”

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One Response to The prodigal steward?

  1. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » The sweet smell of forgiveness

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