16 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. 2 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.’ 3 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. 4 I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ 5 And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 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.’ 8 And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly;
There is a brief transition here along with a thematic shift, so it’s likely that we’ve moved on to another day in the life of Jesus, when He was addressing his disciples and the crowds that came out to listen to Him.
This is a fun passage in that there are multiple interpretations of it, as well as the controversy involved in that Jesus appears to be praising a man for his dishonest behavior.
The story is that of an accountant or financial manager who has the authority and responsibility to act on behalf of a very wealthy landowner. We know he’s very wealthy from the amounts that are owed to him by his debtors: 800-900 gallons of olive oil and 1,000 bushels of wheat are two of the listed debts, and it’s likely he had many more debtors listed in his books.
The man hears a bad report of his financial manager. Maybe he’s been extorting the debtors, tacking on fees. Perhaps he’s been embezzling from the rich man’s books, spending money on himself that he felt he was owed. Regardless, the jig is up and the wealthy man tells him that it’s time for an audit of the books. Worse for the financial manager, he tells him that he’s fired.
The financial manager is worried. Word of his infidelity would get out and he would be blacklisted from his profession. He would be forced to become a day laborer and he was too fat and too soft for such work. And he refused to beg and become ridiculed by his community when he was once held in such high esteem. So he hatches a plan.
Probably while the landowner is busying himself with his audit and before word gets out to the community about his improprieties, the financial manager goes out and gathers all of the debtors together and writes down their debt by 20-50% of the principle. The debtors are overjoyed, of course. They still believe this man acts with the authority of the landowner and they cannot believe their luck. Normally a reduction of rent or changes to the term of a debt would have to be negotiated by the debtor and they would be at the mercy of their landlord or creditor. Here, the creditor was seemingly being spectacularly generous to them out of the goodness of his heart. The people of his community would praise the creditor, speak well of him, and his reputation in the community would go through the roof.
So it’s probably when the creditor starts getting gifts and random “Thank you”s from the townspeople that he finds out what his former financial manager did. He is, of course, in a bind. He can appeal to the legal authorities, expose the financial manager’s deceit, and try to reinforce the old contracts with his debtors. But it would destroy his reputation in the town and make him look foolish. Or he can keep quiet, enjoy the adulations and respect of his community, and let the financial manager slink away to enjoy the hospitality of his debtors and find another job where he’ll swindle another man. Even if the landowner/creditor is not a good man or a generous one, he sees the value in maintaining his own reputation in his hometown and not looking weak or foolish to allow this rogue to steal from him. So he keeps quiet. The financial manager has put him in a bind and he grudgingly admires the old scoundrel’s cunning at saving himself even if it was at the creditor’s great expense.
for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. 9 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.
So I don’t think the moral of this story is to lie, cheat, and steal your way to success. But rather it’s that when it comes to temporary resources, be smart. Recognize the positive ways you can use what you have to win friends and influence people. Money, time, food, your house, your car, recognize the good that you can do with the limited amount that you have and focus on the eternal rewards that will come from investing those resources in other people. The dishonest manager realized that his resources were about to end and he spent his time preparing for a future without them. So too will our own finite resources dry up one day and the only reward waiting for us on the other side will be the men and women whose lives we impacted positively.
10 “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. 11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 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? 13 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.”
Our character with regards to our finite resources will impact our future. If we horde or spend it solely on ourselves, we can expect to be impoverished in spirit and in the things that truly matter. No man can serve two masters, but how often we try. How often our culture encourages us to consume our wealth on ourselves and satisfy our own desires. How often are we told that we need more and newer and better things. Sure your car or your computer or your phone works perfectly fine, but there’s a newer model out there. How often are we lulled into personal debt to buy something we don’t really need? How much of our temporal resources are flowing into the hands of a creditor because we bought into and accepted the cultural wisdom that told us to spend it on ourselves?
Likewise, how much pain has resulted because some men place greed above God and their fellow man and are willing to be dishonest, to lie, to cheat, and to steal in order to acquire just a little bit more wealth? How many lives are destroyed in the vain pursuit of temporal resources? How many go hungry at night because others act selfishly?
You cannot serve yourself and think only of your own desires and serve God. For to serve God is to deny oneself and serve others.
14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. 15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.
There are those who reject this. Even religious people. For many, Christianity is so closely tied to the nation and the nation is so closely tied to capitalism that to criticize the economic culture is seemingly an attack against the nation and Christianity itself.
God has different values than we, by default, do. The wealth, the kingdoms we build, the promotion we claw our way to, the status symbols, the opulence… God isn’t impressed by any of it. God is impressed by the man who reaches out to the outcast, who feeds the hungry, who takes care of the widows and orphans.