Luke Parables of Jesus: The Shrewd Manager
“Now He was also saying to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He *said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.
“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.””
Luke 16:1-13 NASB1995
Luke 16 starts out with a very perplexing parable, one that required me to read a lot of commentaries to try and understand it, so bear with me, as this will have a lot of commentary excerpts to help substantiate the story. In some references, the parable is called the “shrewd manager”; in others, it is called the “unjust or unrighteousness or dishonest steward”. At first glance, it appears that Jesus is actually praising the actions of a rich man’s dishonest manager, who sets up for himself a future network of people who will welcome him by forgiving some of their debts to his master. Jesus calls the man unrighteous, but the master praises the dishonest employee that he has let go, because he recognizes that the manager’s business dealings are shrewd and will benefit both parties, even if it means less in the coffers for the rich man. It became clearer to me as I read a number of commentaries that this parable is centered around our stewardship of the resources that God provides us with in this life.
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Let’s work our way through this one with some Commentary by David Guzik on Enduring Word:
ii. “Give an account of your stewardship [management]” are words that everyone will hear, both sinner and saint. All will have to give account in some way, and we will give account to God. [Charles] Spurgeon once noted that each of us will have to give account of our stewardship regarding our time, our talents, our substance, and our influence.
The manager/steward is called to account for his mismanagement (probably embezzlement). Knowing that his employment is at an end and realizing that he is unsuited to hard labor and begging, the manager devises his scheme to benefit himself and still provide some of the income to his master. More from David Guzik:
A. Some consider this to be one of Jesus’ most difficult parables, because it seems that Jesus used an obviously dishonest man as an example for His disciples. Yet God sometimes uses evil things that are familiar to us to illustrate a particular point, without praising the thing itself. Other examples of this principle are when Paul used things like war and slavery as illustrations of the Christian life.
B. Yet, the dishonest steward was a good example on several points. First, he knew he would be called to account for his life and he took that seriously. Christians should take seriously the idea that they will be called to account, and that idea can be a joy if we are properly about our Master’s business. Second, he took advantage of his present position to arrange a comfortable future.
C. Jesus’ assessment is still true: the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. If we pursued the Kingdom of God with the same vigor and zeal that the children of this world pursue profits and pleasure, we would live in an entirely different world. It could be said that it is to the shame of the Church that Coca-Cola is more widely distributed than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Simply, it is because the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.
Jesus recognizes that his disciples are not shrewd and do not pursue the Kingdom with the same vigor that people in this world pursue pleasure and profits. This is more true today than ever. I know people who day-trade, sweating every little blip in the stock markets and obsessing over how much money they can make to continue to secure a comfortable and perhaps rich future (although they could die tomorrow). Buying and selling in a volatile market like now (with the inflationary pressures) is truly an art, but what does it serve? It should serve our eternal life:
A. Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon: Jesus transferred the principle of the parable, reminding us that we need to use our present resources to plan ahead for eternity.
i. Unrighteous mammon [wealth]: “The word ‘mammon’ is from the Aramaic word mammon, which originally meant, ‘that in which one puts one’s trust,’ hence wealth.” (Mark Pate)
ii. Jesus called it unrighteous mammon because “Riches promise MUCH, and perform NOTHING: they excite hope and confidence, and deceive both: in making a man depend on them for happiness, they rob him of the salvation of God and of eternal glory.” (Adam Clarke)
B. That when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home: The world is filled with financial planners and advisers; and it is good for Christians to learn how to use their money wisely. But when most Christians talk about wise money management, they forget to practice the most important kind of long term investing: investing with an eye to eternity, an everlasting home.
i. The important thing is to invest your resources for the Lord now; most of us wait until the day when we think we will have enough.
Just as Jesus told his disciples to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents as they were sent as sheep among the wolves, Jesus is telling us to use unrighteous mammon to serve to advance the Kingdom and to be righteous in a little to gain a lot of heavenly treasure. No one should trust a church leader who cannot manage his personal finances or ensure that the church’s finances are well-managed. We used to go to a church that re-financed the mortgage on the building several times, leading to millions in debt that never seemed to get paid down, yet they somehow found funds for Oktoberfest celebrations and other superfluous activities. God considers money to be a “little thing” but expects His followers to be righteous in both little and big things.
After the parable has ended, Jesus talks about how we cannot serve two masters (God and wealth). We will end up being devoted to one and hating the other. Here are some great examples in David Guzik’s commentary about our earthly obsession and servitude to wealth (the poor, by the way, can be just as covetous and concerned about wealth as the most wealthy billionaire):
i. Jesus states that serving two masters is a simple impossibility. If you think that you are successfully serving two masters, you are deceived. One can have both money and God; but one cannot serve both money and God.
ii. Certainly, Jesus spoke about the heart here. Many people would say they love God, but their service of money shows that in fact they do not. How can we tell Who or what we serve? One way is by this principle: You will sacrifice for your God. If you will sacrifice for the sake of money, but will not sacrifice for the sake of Jesus, don’t deceive yourself: money is your God.
iii. On a Friday afternoon in 1990, a businessman staggered to the steps of his Los Angeles office. Before he died of the gunshot wound to his chest, he called out the names of his three children. But he still had his $10,000 Rolex watch clutched in his hand. He was the victim of a rash of Rolex robberies – and was killed as a sacrifice to his god.
iv. A 1992 story in the Los Angeles Times told about Michelle, a successful writer and editor, who fears the day her husband might discover her secret stash of credit cards, her secret post office box or the other tricks she uses to hide how much money she spends shopping for herself. “I make as much money as my husband… If I want a $500 suit from Ann Taylor, I deserve it and don’t want to be hassled about it. So the easiest thing to do is lie,” she explains. Last year, when her husband forced her to destroy one of her credit cards, Michelle went out and got a new one without telling him. “I do live in fear. If he discovers this new VISA, he’ll kill me.”
v. A school teacher explained more: “Men just don’t understand that shopping is our drug of choice,” she joked, even while admitting that some months her salary goes exclusively to paying the minimum balance on her credit cards. “Walking through the door of South Coast Plaza is like walking though the gates of heaven. God made car trunks for women to hide shopping bags in.”
vi. A young professional named Mary explained: “Shopping is my recreation. It’s my way of pampering myself. When you walk into [a mall] and you see all the stores, it’s like something takes over and you get caught up in it.”
Are you obsessed with buying stuff , making more money, and gaining temporary (earthly) wealth without a thought to who really owns everything? Then you are serving Mammon and not God. This is a very difficult lesson to understand in this Fear-of-Missing-Out/You-Only-Live-Once culture that showcases luxury constantly, talks about “pampering” yourself, that you “deserve” it; this culture then lures people into spending more and more money that they often don’t have. I confess that I have served Mammon most of my life and am still caught up in “this life” versus my eternal life. Praise Jesus for the lessons that He taught us that we must understand to grow in the right direction. Also thanks be to God for His provision and protection.
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