I spent an absorbing hour or two yesterday trying not to push Jesus through the grid of my presuppositions. Rudolf Bultmann's "Is Exegesis without Presuppositions Possible?" is one of his seminal articles, and the question is a tad awkward. Can any of us come to a text without much of our mind already in the process of being made up by our experiences, prejudices, extent of previous learning, existential commitments, a bias in favour of what we already think? And when the text is the Gospel account of Jesus, what he said and did, how can we possibly read it without what we already think of Jesus shaping our preferences for the exegtical options?
Here's the problem. Luke 16.1-8a is a scandalous parable. Scandal, deriving from 'skandalon', "an impediment placed in the way causing one to stumble". Could Jesus really be saying that embezzling and squandering an employer's property, and then quick witted cleverness in using the proceeds to buy yourself out of trouble is something to be commended? If Jesus did say that what does that do to our view of Jesus? If he couldn't possibly have meant what it seems he said, what did he mean? And why did he say it in the first place? And here's the hard bit - how far is our difficulty in interpreting this parable due to our refusal to believe Jesus might have said something so offensive?
That raises further questions. Was Jesus being ironic? Are we so unable to think ourselves into the codes and norms of a very different culture, that we become postmodernists with a dangerous residue of literal woodenness? Does reverence for Jesus get in the way of that deeper devotion that tries to hear the authentic voice of Jesus, however disconcerting? In the parable itself, was it the master who commended the dishonest manager, or the voice of Jesus, or the voice of Luke the narrator? And what was commended? Was it the dishonesty, embezzlement and bribery, or the recognition of crisis and the urgent action taken to survive. In which case the methodoloy (cunning dishonesty) isn't the point, indeed is beside the point; and instead the alertness to see and the motivation to survive the coming crisis, that is the point. Or is it? Or is that exegetical option driven by my presuppositions about what Jesus could or couldn't say?
I am happy to hear from others who have puzzled over this parable in pleasurable perplexity and exercised exegetical energy extensively - and if you have reached any conclusions that might have survived the process of presuppositional prejudices - that is, if such a thing is possible? (Smiles broadly!)