This parable is one of the most puzzling of Jesus’ stories, because at first glance it would appear that Jesus is applauding wrongful behavior.
What we have here is a good lesson from a bad example. Let’s look at the story of the gentleman farmer and his financial, money management advisor …
Luke 16: 1 – Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. <That ended the parable… the following is the beginning of applications from it…> For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The steward had been found to be dishonest in his dealings and was going to lose his job. To set himself up for the future, he wrote off some debts owed to his master – likely eliminating the interest amounts and collecting only the principal. So it was not precisely illegal. And the master had to admit that the action was shrewd on his part.
People of the world work hard to gain the things that are highest on their values system. And we must give them credit for that – even though it is true that once they climb to the top of the ladder of success, they may well discover that is has been leaned against the wrong building!
The first of three applications in the passage is seen here. It may appear that Jesus is commending shady practices. But what he is drawing upon is the energy that people of this world give to using their resources for gain. The follower of Christ should not horde material assets and have their trust in them, but rather to see their wealth as a resource to be used for eternal gain – invested in the lives of people who will end up as fellow citizens in eternal dwellings.
Luke 16:10 – “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
Here is a timeless management principle and a second application. The inference is that the religious leaders were not using their assets in ways that had eternal values and a focus upon others. They were not being faithful with what they had – materially and spiritually. Hence they could not expect to inherit a glorious future.
Luke 16:13 – “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Have you ever had two jobs and been in a position where you had two bosses who both wanted you to work at the same time? Did it go well?
Working for both wealth and for God NEVER finds success. It really is possible to work hard and long and gain much, while also serving God beautifully and faithfully. But it takes a strategy to do that. It requires a conscious understanding that your wealth is a tool, a means to an end, and not an end in itself. And that is a challenge to manage.
Luke 16:14 – The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.
16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
This entire teaching irritated the Pharisees – not appreciating a penetrating lecture from a poor teacher who was followed by hordes of poor people. If he was truly a vessel of God, he would have the material blessing of God to prove it … in their view of life realities.
In fact, the Pharisees did not value truth; they twisted it for their own benefit. Truth cannot be twisted and changed. Some of them did things like divorce without just cause, just to satisfy their pleasures and desires. And Jesus drops that bomb on them as well.
The passage is a complicated one to interpret. But the big idea to take away is that what we have in the material world is to be used with a view toward the eternal world. This is a basic teaching that really cuts to the center of the core of who we are and what we value. It is essentially the timeless question of what are we doing with what we have, or, how are we using God’s gifts to us of time, talent, and treasure? And is God increasingly entrusting us with opportunities to use our resources for eternal good?