Monday, March 30, 2015

John Calvin: Kindness and mercy in the parable of the Unjust Steward

John Calvin

Calvin takes whatever opportunity he can to urge his readers to treat other human beings with kindness, mercy, generosity, and love. Such is the case with his exposition of the Unjust Steward. Jesus is not telling his followers to advance themselves by fraud and extortion, Calvin argues; instead, this parable demonstrates that we ought to treat others with kindness and generosity so that at the Last Judgment, we will reap the benefits of our mercy. Jesus is not telling his disciples a way to “escape” at the Last Judgment, but he warms them that, after having accepted the many gifts God gave them during their lifetimes, it is imperative to be both beneficent and merciful to others, in response: “We must always attend to this maxim, that with what measure a man measures, it shall be recompensed to him again” (Matt. 7:2).
The parable itself is both harsh and far-fetched, Calvin admits, but for interpreters “to inquire with great exactness into every minute part of a parable is an absurd mode of philosophizing.” The parable does not commend the unjust steward for his villainous actions, but it makes the point that ungodly human beings “are more industrious and skillful in conducting the affairs of this fading life, than the children of God are anxious to obtain the heavenly and eternal life, or careful to make it the subject of their study and meditation.” Christians should be even more earnest about their eternal fates than the unrighteous are in attending to their fates in this world. Jesus thus seeks to arouse believers to be much more attentive to their eternal salvation than to things of this world.

It is important for Christians to attend to acts of charity toward others, because “by acts of charity we obtain favor with God, who has promised, that to the merciful he will show himself merciful” (Psalm 18:25).

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