What Christians Should Learn from the Parable of a Dishonest Manager

549277847_2fac10d7bf_mA parable is a story out of the natural world to teach something about the spiritual world, on the assumption that what is true in the one is true in the other.

Jesus told a parable about a rich man’s estate manager who was trusted to manage all his business affairs. The arrangement went well until someone reported to the rich man that his manager was being wasteful with resources entrusted to him.

He was not accused of pilfering or stealing large sums. He was simply accused of being careless and indulgent with resources he did not own but was employed to manage wisely.

With that, the rich man confronted his manager, ordering him to bring his financial records up to date in short order and then consider himself discharged of his duties.

The manager was shocked. He had expected the position was his for life. Suddenly it is snatched away on short notice. In panic he reviews his options: He knows he’s not strong enough to dig ditches, and it would be beneath his dignity to be found begging on a street corner.

Accordingly, he devises a clever solution. He will use the few fleeting days left in his job dishonestly to create situations that will provide for his needs when his employment abruptly ends.

So, he called in persons who had debts to his master. He asked the first how much he owed. The answer was 800 gallons of olive oil. Hurriedly he had the debtor rewrite the bill making it 400.

He instructed the next debtor to take his bill for 1000 bushels of wheat and rewrite it for 800. On and on his scheme went until all debtors had had their bills reduced.

This shrewd manager knew that the favors he had bestowed on them would evoke generosity when they found him dismissed and unemployed. He would thus be well cared for in his post-job life.

So, how did the wealthy owner respond when he learned of the manager’s shrewd dealings? While recognizing the fellow’s dishonesty, he nevertheless commended his shrewdness (probably with some reluctance) in providing for a comfortable future for himself when his employment ended.

By this plan, when the manager became unemployed he would not be destitute. Friends would be there to greet him and offer him support with thanksgiving.

We note again that a parable is a story out of the natural world to teach something about the spiritual world, on the assumption that what is true in the one is true in the other.

With that we come to Jesus’ application of the story:

First, he says, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” (Luke 16:8).

This is a lament. Too few members of the Lord’s kingdom deal with the fact they are stewards of all materials in their care and the stewardship will come to an end all too soon.

That is, whatever they have of worldly wealth is a trust. God is the owner of all. Moreover, their season of trust will be brief at its longest. But — and here is the lament — they are not as shrewd in managing this wealth for heavenly results as the dishonest manager in Jesus’ parable for favors in this life.

The capstone of the parable is clear. Jesus exhorts: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).

One can’t miss the point: if we are faithful stewards of worldly wealth in this life and direct it to spiritual ends, we will be greeted in heaven by some who will profess that it was our faithful use of the resources entrusted to us in spiritual ways that accounted for their presence there to greet us.

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Photo credit: fsecart (via flickr.com)

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2 thoughts on “What Christians Should Learn from the Parable of a Dishonest Manager

  1. I’ve always struggled with the parable of the unjust steward in Luke, the parable of the shrewd estate manager. Only by keeping my eye on the point Jesus makes, and avoiding the distraction of the stewards dishonesty ,do I come close to understanding it. This week’s ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ invites me to try tackle it again and helps my understanding.

    The rich man finds fault with ,then and sacks his steward ,not for dishonesty, but for incompetence , for poor stewardship.

    When the steward prudently provides for his unemployment by winning favur with his employers debtors, then he becomes dishonest. Before he was honest ( I think) but not shrewd. Now he is shrewd for himself ,but becomes dishonest.

    It always puzzled me that instead of remonstrating with him for losing him money,his emloyer commends his prudence in storing up favors for himself.He commends his wisdom .Is he being kind ?

    I know the moral of the parable is that one cannot serve two masters.One cannot serve God and Mammon. Still, it’s obvious Jesus regards the steward as dishonest in squandering his employers wealth in his own interests. Yet we are to admire the stewards wisdom in providing for his future by making friends and winning peoples obligations.

    I can only understand this parable as Jesus advising us to look to our future.Jesus is focussing on our future not the stewards morality,I think.Jesus is only using the dishonest steward as an example.we are to emulate,not his dishonesty ,but his wisdom in ensuring the future The steward is not praiseworthy but his wisdom is.

    I can only think the dishonest steward is just an example Jesus uses in parable.It’s not about the steward but about us.Jesus is not holding the steward up at all,only making a point about wise providence,I think.

    If even a bad steward can look to the future , so must every good Christian. I understand the point Jesus makes but find the steward’s dishonesty a distraction.Only by putting this parable in the context of the whole of Like’s message in both his gospel and Acts can I fully concentrate on the point Jesus is making about preparing our spirit for what is to come.

    Only then can I forget the distraction of the steward’s dishonesty.We can be wise like the steward without being dishonest like the steward.

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    • Francis: It’s good to know you are continuing to interact with the blogs. I think you’ve got it right in your understanding of the dishonest steward. I hope all goes well with you

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