Jesus concluded his parable in Luke 16:9 by telling his disciples to make friends with or by means of unrighteous mammon. Much of what the Lord intends for us to understand in the Parable of the Unjust Steward hangs on the meaning of the word mammon (mammonas – G3126), but we are unable to draw much help from the Greek. The word seems to be derived from G3125 (mamme), meaning grandmother, but the sense the translators give the word points to material wealth. Yet, the unjust steward doesn’t seem to be extorting the rich man’s wealth per se. Rather, he seems to be gaining the confidence of the rich man’s debtors.
The steward neither took what was owed to the rich man, nor did he give anything of his own to the rich man’s debtors. So, if mammon should mean wealth (as many believe it does), it comes as a surprise in the conclusion of the parable. The unjust steward didn’t use wealth to gain the confidence of the rich man’s debtors, rather he used his wisdom by forgiving part of the debt owed. It was in this manner that the steward made friends. So, how does this fit into the context of Jesus’ conclusion?
Jesus says that when it (most translations) or you (fewer translations) fail… “they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (Luke 16:9). The problem with the meaning of it failing is that when the wealth of the prodigal son failed, he found he had no friends (cf. Luke 15:13-14). What guarantee does anyone have that a friendship gained through gold is a true friendship? There is no guarantee, and, if the Lord means wealth when he speaks of mammon, his argument doesn’t seem very sound. Rather, the sense seems to be “when you fail…” (cf. Hebrews 1:12). That is, when you die “they shall receive you into everlasting habitations.”
If mammon has to do with material wealth, Jesus’ conclusion seems out of context with the parable, because the unjust steward neither used his own material wealth nor (through extortion) that of his master to gain the good will of the rich man’s debtors. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus seems to use mammon as a person, a master who was to be served. If we use this to add meaning to Luke 16:9-13, we might say that mammon is a man’s unrighteous life. Paul concludes that our righteousness is not our own, but our righteousness is Jesus (1Corinthians 1:30).
In fact, Paul even used this argument in Romans 3. Paul asks the question “What advantage is there in serving God, if we are unrighteous” (paraphrased – Romans 3:1). Paul concludes there is a great deal of advantage in serving God, even as a sinner (Romans 3:2), chiefly handing down his word to others. Unbelief doesn’t make the work of God ineffective (Romans 3:3). Rather our unrighteousness causes the righteousness of God to appear all the more glorious, in contrast (Romans 3:4-5). God’s righteousness never appeared more appealing than when Jesus hung dying on the cross.
Mammon represents the goods we have been given (Luke 16:1) by the rich man (God) in terms of days we have to live. We can consume our mammon in unrighteous living (cf. Luke 15:13) or we use our unrighteous life (mammon) to serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15). Mammon is what is another man’s. We received this unrighteous life from Adam. He is the originator of our lives, but God wants to give us a life of our own, one which we owe to no one but God (cf. 2Corinthians 5:1). This is the everlasting habitation to which our Father and Jesus receive us (Luke 16:9), when we use our mammon, or our life we received from Adam, to serve the Gospel.