The parable of the shrewd manager.
One of the major problems that Jesus addressed in His parables was the lack of understanding that many had concerning God.
For example, in the parable often called “the parable of the prodigal son” (just before the parable of the unjust steward in Luke’s gospel) Jesus reveals that God is like a father who runs out to greet a wayward son and rejoices at his return. The father then goes out to speak with his other son who was resentful at the welcome his brother had received. In the second son’s conversation with his father, we see that like the first (albeit in a different way) he did not understand his father’s love and generosity.
God is a loving Father who knows us all by name and who reaches out to us all in incredible grace, mercy and love. If we put money, position and wealth before Him then we don’t really know God, as Jesus points out in the parable of the shrewd manager which is after the parable of the loving father and prodigal son(s) in Luke’s gospel.
In the parable, a rich man is told that his assets are being wasted by his manager and in response informs the manager that he is losing his position. The manager is aware of how dire his situation is and that he is unsuitable for manual work and too proud to beg. Since he still has the accounts ledger until the end of the day, he has not technically left the firm and so he concocts a plan to ingratiate himself with some of the rich man’s debtors. These debtors would not know he was in the process of being sacked. In ingratiating himself with others he would be putting a safety-net in place for the future.
The unnamed manager is fully aware of who owes what, yet feigns ignorance and asks each debtor how much he owes – almost indicating that something is going to happen and paving the way in the process. After all saying, “You owe £100 pounds but I now reduce it to £50” probably sounds a little more unusual than saying, “So how much is it that you owe? Ok– well we’ll reduce it to £50 and leave it at that”.
Although the debtors should have questioned what is going on, they did not. Perhaps they were opportunists, or perhaps the man they owed money to was known as generous or someone who did not always know what was going on? Whatever the case was, the amount their debts were reduced by was extremely large.
In all that is going on we see the dishonesty of the manager (which had led him into trouble in the first place) revealing his guilt. In the parable, the master then commends the manager for acting shrewdly.
The point that is being made here is that the manager had banked something more than money. He had banked on the on the generosity of his master and hoped that his shady dealings were going to be worth the risk in order to gain financial security and support for himself during a leaner time of unemployment. He would also have reasoned that his employer would have been less likely to have him imprisoned because he was now seen as a generous provider in the community.
From this we see that Jesus is definitely not endorsing the practices of the dishonest manager. What He is doing is pointing out that those who operate in the ways of the world know something about the people around them and are willing to bank on their knowledge of people when taking a risk – despite being dishonest! In light of this, it is all the more surprising that those who had been taught by God still seemed to find it so difficult to understand and trust Him or to take a step of faith when called to!
Some of the Pharisees who were listening to Jesus loved money and sought to justify themselves before God (Luke 16:14), forgetting what God was like and that He also knows the hearts of all men (Luke 16:15). What the Pharisees should have been doing was using their worldly wealth to help others and thus revealing themselves as true sons of God. Those who understood the grace and love of God and put Him before all else in every area of life could then be trusted by God with greater things.
God has continuously revealed Himself as a loving Father who is gracious, compassionate, merciful and patient towards us all yet many of us can lose sight of God. This is evidenced, in part, in the way we put worldly wealth, position and status before all else in our quest to feel safe and secure. Yet what is highly valued by man is detestable to God because it separates us from the One who loves us most and harms the very person we are trying to protect: ourselves.
In conclusion, a question we could ask ourselves could be: “What is it in me that can prevent me from knowing and engaging with the best communicator this world has ever seen who loves me with an everlasting love?”
Written and produced by Pastor Jem. 2017