An Unscrupulous Manager and a Cash-Free Society
Also known as the “Parable of the Shrewd Manager”
(Luke chapter 16, verses 1-15)
Last week when we left off at the end of chapter 15 of Luke's gospel, we concluded the story of the wayward son (or “Prodigal Son” with due respect to my King James readers) with my account of the triple meaning of that story Jesus told. Don't forget how I applied that as we read and shared comments about these meanings Jesus deliberately inserted for our enrichment. Only when we discover these hidden things of God do we begin to grasp the enormous scope of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So today as we move on to Luke chapter 16, we find ourselves at another time and place, although the Bible doesn't specify either one. So here we go starting at verse 1:
“Jesus told his disciples, 'There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, 'What's this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg. I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' So he called in each of his master's debtors. He asked the first debtor, 'How much do you owe my master?' 'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil', he replied. The manager told him, 'Take your bill and sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.' Then he asked the second, 'How much do you owe?' 'A thousand bushels of wheat', he replied. He told him, 'Take you bill and make it eight hundred.' The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed home into eternal dwellings.'” (Luke 16, verses 1-9)
It is necessary to read in between the lines here in order to catch the first wave of this tide of teaching of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The story is about a shrewd but corrupt manager. But before that, it is a tale of being accountable (trustworthy) and being responsible. Yet it tells a tale that hails from a much different place and time, where businesses were run in a cashless society. The word of the manager's egregious mismanagement must have spread because it was undoubtedly affecting the morale of the workers to the point that they went over the manager's head and complained to the master, or perhaps one of his senior foremen. In the same way as the manager's lackadaisical approach to his work ultimately cost him his job, so it is with our own service to Christ. It’s on us to sow the seeds and water the Olive tree that represents the Lord’s kingdom.
When the master puts him on notice that he is being terminated, this manager in Jesus' story decides to get more than a little creative by doing favors for his master's creditors as a final act of revenge. Since the man was in the process of being fired, he metes out some poetic justice of his own. Had the manager done that in our modern world, he would have been charged with fraud, theft or both. That just goes to show us all how much times have changed. Today the laws are 100% in favor of the rich, which goes a long way towards explaining why the US has the world's largest prison population. But that’s another topic for another time.
But look at what Jesus taught instead! “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” There was an old saying, “turnabout's fair play” that today can be restated as, “What goes around comes around”. This, I'm very sure, is exactly what our Lord and Savior was referring to. Back in those days there was no unemployment or even a 'job market' as we understand it. So by making sure he had a place to go after he turned in his final account – together with his resignation, if there was such a thing back then – the manager acted shrewdly by Jesus' standards. This just goes to show you how far off course today's world actually is when compared to the superlative teachings and self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
“For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” Evidently Jesus was telling his apostles they needed to be more shrewd in their dealings with other people, presumably to become more effective ministers to others and better servants to the Lord. Jesus knew that his words would one day be in print and on the Web, so this lesson is clearly intended for ourselves as well as the apostles. We, you see, are the “people of the light”, and Jesus who is that Light is coaxing us to become far more shrewd individuals with His Light so we too can be better servants. “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed home into eternal dwellings.” Here is yet another warning from our Lord that those who hoard wealth and material goods here on earth will have nothing left for eternity.
Many people who do this very thing do so because they don't believe there is an eternity, a life after death that is totally unlike anything they have ever experienced. So getting rich is not shrewd like the world thinks. Jesus defines shrewdness as spreading the wealth around instead of keeping it all to ourselves as so many are prone to do. Selfish people are, then, by definition, small minded individuals. I can't imagine going through life like that. Having said that, let's move on to the 2nd part of our study starting at verse 10.
“'Whoever can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will be dishonest with very much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one but despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.' The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, 'You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by men is detestable in God's sight.'” (Luke 16, verses 10-15)
Let's examine closely what our Lord and Redeemer was trying to say right here. Had the manager who was losing his job simply quit and walked away, headed towards an uncertain future, that would have been considered foolish or maybe even stupid in Jesus' time. Then he would have truly been considered an untrustworthy individual, ending his career. But since he curried favor with his master's creditors just prior to his dismissal, the manager's now-former master sent him away but with a good recommendation. He still lost his job, but his reputation was intact. These facts about the teachings of Christ are downplayed today because this story empowers employees to seek just compensation from their soon-to-be former bosses in the event of their dismissal, which in today's business climate can happen for no reason at all. Obviously today's huge multinational corporations, the Wall St. bankers and their armies of lobbyists don't want to hear this kind of talk at all, since that would be viewed as a potential threat. Welcome to America.
“No servant can serve two masters…..You cannot serve both God and Money.” Either materialism or spirituality will be your master and your motivator. Either you will only be devoted to that which is seen, touched and experienced in the present tense, or you will be focused solely on preparing yourself for the future tense, which is eternal. Devotion to God through Christ and devotion to self, often at the exclusion of all others, are mutually exclusive of one another. Do you drive a new car, a used one, do you bike or do you take the bus? Do you wear the latest styles or only what you can afford, even if it means checking out flea markets or yard sales? Do you live in a big fancy house or just rent or lease? You get the idea, people, you can't have life both ways. Those of you who are not yet doing these things will need to change your ways if you have any hope of seeing God’s kingdom.
“The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.” Doesn't this remind you of certain kinds of people today? Like the 'elitists' as the main stream press calls them, or 'rich arrogant snobs' as I call them? They are the ones who put profits before people, when it's supposed to be the other way around. They're the ones who out-sourced your jobs, ending the careers of many prematurely. They're the ones who buried you, your kids or your grand-kids under a mountain of student loan debt or government debt, whose interest accrues faster than the principal can be repaid. They're also the ones who are turning America's classrooms into exercises in idiocy. These people must be stopped no matter what the cost. What America needs is a political and economic revolution, but that's a topic for still another discussion.
“God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by men is detestable in God's sight.” The people who are admired by the world for amassing great wealth are the ones most despised by God. On the other hand, I don't think this necessarily means that God hates all rich people either. The apostle Luke was a doctor prior to becoming Christ's disciple. Doctors are generally fairly prosperous people, and some get very wealthy. Matthew was a tax collector. So being destitute is not a prerequisite for being a follower of Jesus, just so everyone is clear about that. Later in this series of studies when we get into the Book of Acts, I will be better able to go into detail about that. But for now, understand that those the world despises most are the ones held in the highest esteem by God, and those held in high esteem by the world are the ones God hates, although there can be exceptions in both cases.
Have you ever noticed as you live your lives for Christ that some days it seems like the whole world is against you? Also, have you noticed that oftentimes those who the world admires and fawns upon, from the greatest box office phenomenon to the richest rock star or pro athlete, turn out to be real jerks in person? What you are seeing in that case is the teachings of Christ coming to life, confirming everything he ever said or taught. For the next week, I want everyone to practice making the teachings of Christ to come to life in whatever way suits you best. Carrying ourselves so that others can see the Light of Jesus' living within us is a far more powerful witness for Christ than the most powerful and anointed sermon or evangelistic crusade ever could. So let's make it a point to live our lives this way every day this week until it becomes a habit. And next week we'll examine part 2 of Luke chapter 16.
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