Jesus is still answering the objection of the scribes and Pharisees to His rehabilitation of sinners. The Jewish leaders were missing the point of the rituals. They failed to understand that the rituals served as symbolic reminders of our fallen nature, our need for repentance and redemption. Their legalistic focus on the particulars of the Covenant Law turned it into an exercise in buying merit, as if they were somehow basically good people and could preserve that standing. They completely lost track of how God viewed these things.
So Jesus tells a parable that compares our existence in this world to a form of stewardship. Now here is where too many mainstream Christian scholars get off track. They don’t catch on to the masterful sarcasm in this parable. The characters should be easy to figure out based on the context of the criticism from the scribes and Pharisees. God is the rich land owner, and Jesus is the “unjust” steward, as the Pharisees would have it.
In their eyes, Jesus was being sloppy with the requirements of the Law of Moses. They talked bad about this rabbi and envisioned how God would call Him to account for such laziness. They viewed Jesus as some kind of fraud, someone who frittered away what they believed were God’s blessings, the inheritance of the Covenant. So they would stand on one side and cheer as God would tell Jesus He could no longer teach and lead the people, because He wasn’t collecting enough moral debts. He was letting people off too easy on their sins.
Just to heighten their sense of righteous indignation, He pretended that He was the kind of man too lazy for manual labor and too proud to beg. The satire was getting thick here. So what was Jesus to do? Why, instead of being sloppy with His use of Scripture, He would quite intentionally go out and make things easy on some really big sinners.
Get the picture. These debtors were also stewards of God’s blessings. They are depicted as sharecroppers who render to the rich landowner (God) a share of what they produced in their lives. The amounts they owed in relative terms were huge; these were some really big sinners. How could they possibly repay to God what the scribes and Pharisees imagined they owed under the Law? What would it take for them to produce enough legalistic merit to climb out of that pit?
Jesus forestalls this problem. While He still holds the divine authority, He calls for these sinners to write up more realistic contracts of debt. Jesus puts repentance within their reach versus the impossible demands of the scribes and Pharisees. This way when Judgment Day comes and these folks are allowed in Heaven, Jesus will have no trouble finding a place among them. And God approves of the whole thing!
Did God really worry so much about the size of their moral debt, or was He more interested in their shalom? Does not the Kingdom gain when people realize the truth of what God really expects of us? Instead of impossible debts no one can repay, He gains servants who can move forward in their lives and bless His name.
What are material goods really good for? The scribes and Pharisees fancied themselves “children of light” but had no clue. They were actually serving Mammon; their reputation as nit-picking legalists was matched by nickle-and-dime greed. Jesus said we should use our time on earth as stewards to be generous with God’s provision, reaching out to those who are burdened by guilt. You can’t help anyone who has no sense of penitence (like scribes and Pharisees), but there are plenty of folks who are buried under a false burden of guilt and want to find a path back to God’s favor. Use God’s riches to buy their debt and redeem their lives.
The riches of this world are the least of things God worries about. If you can figure out how to use them for His glory, then you can understand what really matters. If God can’t trust you with material provisions, how can He offer you His truth? True wealth in this context is the revelation of God. The scribes and Pharisees had been unfaithful with God’s Law, so they couldn’t possibly see through the words of the Covenant to the true value to which those words pointed. They were so busy serving Mammon that they had no time for Jehovah.
Mammon is more than just worldly wealth; it was the attitude that Pharisaical human reasoning was the real god. Their Hellenized logic about the provisions of the Covenant made a mockery of God’s glory in restoring those who repented. The wealth of Heaven is God’s people changed by revelation, not the provisions of the Law.