I met with a group of friends this week, some around the table and some by Zoom, and failed to resolve an issue. Again. I imagined, in preparing for the session, that I would have to push a little to get through the initial opposition, which I expected. The “initial opposition” got stronger the more we talked about it. I never did get through it.
Looking back, I think I have an idea about why. As you might expect, the two sides were not arguing about the same thing. My favorite example of this kind of dilemma is the “debate” about abortion, where one side argues that saving lives is important and the other that the right to decide is important. Neither wants to argue on the others’ terrain, so the argument goes on.
The texts before this group were two parables from Luke. I should admit here that this was a Bible study group, but it was a secular Bible study group. The quick back-of-the-envelope test I use is this: was the discussion of these texts different in any important way than a discussion of two texts from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? If the kinds of argumentation were the same, I get to claim the designation “secular” for my Bible study group.
The two parables are ordinarily called the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16—21) and the Wicked Steward (now, often the Cunning Steward) in Luke 16:1—8. My argument was that there is a single trait that unites these two parables. It is the duty of any wise person to know that the life they are living is brief and to take the resources they currently have (or, as we will see, have access to) and invest them in the next life, where they will be more important.
That’s it. The Steward passes that test; the Fool does not.
A number of members of the group took issue with that simple lesson. They wanted to see in Luke’s parables an interest in the clear violation of enduring norms. Theft, in the case of the Steward. They pointed out that the Steward defrauded his employer, as the text clearly says. That is true. And the master says not one word about it. He praises the Steward’s “astuteness.” Luke says not one word about it. Jesus has a saying appended to the end in which the main trait to be considered is astuteness; Jesus is in favor of it. You cannot find an interest in the Steward’s dishonesty in any of those sources. If you find it, you brought with you or you imported it from other texts.
We find that the Rich Fool was not astute. He had a short term surplus—as did the Steward—and the surplus actually belonged to him. This is the difference between having a safe full of your money and having a safe full of someone else’s money but you know the combination of the safe. The Fool has the money; the Steward knows the combination. Nevertheless, he is called a fool because he does not see the end coming—the narrator knows, but the fool does not, that he will die that same night—and therefore fails to plan for it.
It is true that the fool that makes plans to spend the money on himself in lavish ways, It is also true that there are many scriptures that disapprove of spending your money in lavish ways. None of them are here. The battle as I see it, is between Luke, who says, “I want to talk about astute planning” and those members of my group who say, “You can’t talk about that without also talking about how wrong theft is.” Or luxury. 
We can make this little friction a good deal more respectable by considering it more generally. We could say that there are two ways to read the Bible: in little pieces or as one large lump. In the pieces way, the guiding questions are about what the author is saying in this passage, to whom, and why. In the lump way, you imagine that “the Bible” has a position on whatever we are studying at the moment, and you take that position into account in each passage. 
There are many passages that condemn theft, for instance. In the lump view, those condemnations ought to be imported into other passages where theft is alleged, but not specifically identified. The pieces view is that the passage under consideration is best studied as a topic of its own. What is being considered HERE is the question.
A very general concern for “fairness” will require that the Steward be condemned for cheating and that the Farmer be condemned for the way he used his wealth. He really should have saved it against the coming lean years or he really should have shared it with his neighbors or given it to the poor. My view is that importing into Luke’s presentation a concern for “fairness”—which Luke fails to show in many of the Jesus stories he offers—saddles him with someone else’s concern unfairly.
That’s my summary of the arguments. I may be a little more sensitive to this issue than I would otherwise be because I know what other stories are coming up later in the term and a number of them are much worse than these.
 I know we have forgotten it, but “luxury” was once the name given to a deadly sin.
 There is an intermediate position that I like much better. It takes the themes or the word choices of a particular author into account. “Most of the time (many citations here) when Matthew uses this word, he means X.” That doesn’t guarantee that Matthew means that in this passage, but it does give some guidance.