It was refreshing to hear our president make Biblical references on the recent National Day of Prayer. President Obama specifically made reference to the Parable of the Faithful Steward.
There is little question the president was referring to taking money from the ‘haves’ and giving it to the ‘have-nots’ i.e. redistribution of wealth.
From his own words:
“And when I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.”
Then he added, “But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘…For unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’” Luke 12:48b
Even though he may have meant well, his speech writers should have alerted him that his fiscal ideology doesn’t ‘coincide’ with Jesus’ teaching quoted i.e. the Parable of the Faithful Steward has nothing to do with money.
The key to understanding the intended meaning of the passage he quoted is to examine the very first word, i.e. ‘for’.
The Greek base defining ‘for’ is a causative particle following a statement and expresses and/or affirms and explains what has just been stated. A good example is:
“…Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20b
In the above passage the fact that Mary had conceived a Child by the Holy Spirit was the explanation why Joseph should not to be afraid to take her as his wife.
Now let’s examine the specific parable which the President quoted in order to get the actual context.
“And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required…” Luke 12:47-48
Jesus was explaining that once a steward knew of his master’s will but willfully disregarded it during his master’s absence, that steward would be punished severely upon his master’s return. But if a servant/steward did things deserving of punishment without realizing his error, i.e. not knowing his master’s will, his punishment would be less severe. The ‘much is given’ in the teaching is the extent of the master’s will that had been known by and entrusted to the steward. The ‘much will be required’ is the stewardship of the knowledge of his master’s will.
Parables were a significant part of Jesus’ teachings and were used to illustrate and explain the kingdom of heaven. In the present parable of the faithful steward, Jesus is the Master. Matthew records an example of Jesus presenting a parable and then provides an answer as to why He used parables in His teaching.
“Then He (Jesus) spoke many things to them in parables…” Matthew 13:3
“And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ He answered and said to them, ‘Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given…Therefore I speak to them in parables…And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive. For the hearts of this people have grown dull.’” Matthew 13:11-15a
Notice the last sentence in the above; it begins with ‘for’ which explains the preceding thoughts.
Thus according to Jesus, His disciples would understand and be enlightened by His parables but those who were not His disciples would not understand them.