Commendable Crooks?

Read: Luke 16

“The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light.” (Luke 16:8-9, NLT)

This opening story in Luke 16 has been referred to as “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager”.  The plot centers around a high level supervisor of a company whose boss informs him that he is going to get the ax for mismanaging funds, either out of gross incompetence if not outright embezzlement. But before the day of his dismissal, the manager goes behind his boss’ back to people who owe the company money, and using some “creative accounting”, illegally reduces the money these debtors owed to his employer.  He does this to build some good will with these debtors so when he is unemployed, they will look favorably on him.

The kicker to this story: This shady manager gets commended for his innovation and audacity—by the boss in the story, and, so it seems, by the story-teller, Jesus.

Upon first reading this parable, one has to wonder if Jesus is advocating underhanded business practices or manipulation to maneuver out of problems?  Of course, Jesus would never do that. So what is going on? Jesus is simply commending this manager’s dedication to dealing with reality. Reality is, he’s got a problem; he’s going to lose his job, and he has no early retirement plan, no stock options, and no other employment opportunities. So he says, “I have a problem, I will take responsibility, I will form a realistic plan, and I will take action.”

That is what Jesus is commending, not the dishonesty.  Jesus is impressed with how he shrewdly takes advantage of the situation to deal with his crisis.  Now the question is, why is Jesus so impressed with this willingness to face reality? Because he knows how few tend to do it.

Jesus is also impressed with the manager because the man knew his master’s character and he formed his entire plan around that. He knew he was dealing with a generous, gracious man, and he bet everything on the belief that the master would respond magnanimously—which the master did!

Without commending dishonesty, Jesus is using this parable to teach us about the character of God. Jesus is saying if this unethical manager had the courage to face his problem by relying on the generosity and mercy of his master, how much more can you, and should you, face any reality, problem or crisis, confident that your gracious and merciful God can be trusted to generously help you.

Now in this parable, Jesus says some seemingly confusing things that when properly understood in context, provides a sense of urgency to this message.

First, Jesus says, “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9) He is not saying that you can buy your way into eternal favor, but he is saying that what you do now affects who you are in eternity, which is exactly why you ought to deal with your problems with a sense of urgency.

Second, Jesus says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.” (Luke 16:10) He is saying that you need to understand how much is riding on your diligent attention. What you do now to deal with your challenging realities matters to God.

Third, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters.” (Luke 16:13)  Your life is not your own; you belong to God.  In light of that, Jesus is challenging you to take resolute action to overcome any personal problem so you can present yourself to God in such a way that on that day when you stand before him, you will hear him say, “well done!”

You and I belong to God; we are children of the King.  And since Jesus is our Lord, we ought to deal with financial flaws and moral issues and personality weaknesses immediately and boldly and successfully. If this unjust manager did it knowing his generous master would back him up, how much more should you get after it knowing your gracious Father will help you!

I think what Jesus is really saying is, “what are you waiting on? It’s time to step up to the plate!”

“What we think or what we know or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence, The only consequence is what we do.” ~John Ruskin

What If God Took Over?

William Jennings Bryan said, “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” What personal matter needs your attention ASAP? Get after it today—the destiny God desires for you will be affected by your action, or inaction.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Commendable Crooks?

  1. This parable has been a thorn in many a preachers side. There are good reasons. Worldly wisdom and greed, coupled with a total misunderstanding of God has led to some really off base teachings. The personality of every preacher seems to be revealed in this single parable.
    Your longtime predecessor was one of them. I groaned when he spoke on this. He should have said nothing.
    If your answer would not make those who cared for wealth scoff at you, you cannot be on target. Remember, Jesus was scoffed at because of it.
    There are arguments on who commended this dishonest manager. None of them want it to be Jesus. Yet it cannot be his boss, either. No one is that generous to commend a man who was robbing him, even if the proceeds are not being kept by the thief. If gifts were to be given to these men, he would do it himself. If this were to become known to the boss, there would be hell to pay. That explains the manager’s stealth.
    So it was Jesus, and that it the reason for the scoffs. They simply missed Jesus’ point. What is the value of money? The shrew manager got this one point right. Even though embezzlement isn’t being encouraged, we are like him in regards to the fact that we are all steward of what God has entrusted to us. We should use what we have been given to both ingratiate ourselves with those around us and to store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust can corrupt. Because this manager did not have that hope, he did what he could to safeguard himself in the here and now.

    And is not that the essence of wisdom, whether it be worldly or Godly, to do what one can to benefit oneself? The worldly are shortsighted, and the godly look toward the eternal horizon.

    So you have made many good points where many have failed, and your heart is revealed!

    • "The worldly are shortsighted, and the godly look toward the eternal horizon." That is the bottom line to this whole discussion…and an important one at that! I suppose the "worldly", unfortunately, include worldly Christians (an oxymoron, perhaps). The true godly live continually with an eternal perspective that shapes everything about them. That is most commendable!