Original Research

‘I am not strong to dig and I am afraid to beg’: Social status and status concern in the parable of the Dishonest Steward (Lk 16:1–9)

Louis Ndekha
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 4 | a6372 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i4.6372 | © 2021 Ndekha Louis | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 October 2020 | Published: 10 May 2021

About the author(s)

Louis Ndekha, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi; andDepartment of New Testament and Related Literature, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Tshwane, South Africa


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Abstract

This article offers a reading of the parable of the Dishonest Steward from the perspective of Greco-Roman status concern. It observes that the parable has a long and complicated history of interpretation. The different approaches in the reading of the parable reveal the unresolved quest in scholarship to establish a reading of the parable that takes into account both the steward’s act of generosity towards his master’s debtors and the praise that follows this action. This article proposes the Greco-Roman status concern as a framework for understanding the meaning of the parable in its original context. Status concern was the spirit of tenacity in maintaining one’s status and honour against all odds characteristic of Greco-Roman honour and shame culture. The article argues that when the parable is read within its literary context, it reveals that at the heart of Jesus’ message in the parable is the theme of persistence as an attribute of authentic discipleship. This understanding of the parable resonates with the entrenched Greco-Roman spirit of status concern. The interpretation would also have been relevant to Luke’s Greco-Roman auditors living on the periphery of the Greco-Roman culture with the constant pressures to conform to the ethos of the larger social context. The steward’s resolve to maintain his status even in the most difficult circumstances provided a paradigm for those Christ-followers to remain steadfast in the faith against all odds.

Contribution: The article presents an alternative interpretation of the parable of the Dishonest Steward. By proposing status concern as an interpretative framework, it offers both new insights into the socio-economic and socio-cultural realities of Luke’s world and the continuing evidence of the contribution of Greco-Roman world to the development of the New Testament texts.


Keywords

Dishonest Steward; digging and begging; honour and shame; status concern; Greco-Roman world; parable; discipleship; gospel of Luke.

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