Luke 16:1 - 15
ESV - 1 He also said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.
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The parable of the rich man and the dishonest manager is a tricky one to grasp. It can leave us with more questions than answers. The first question is, 'Who brought the charges to the rich man that the manager was wasting his possessions?' (that's how it reads that the rich man was made aware of what was going on). Secondly, when the manager was told to tally the books and give a report, it seems that he began wheeling and dealing in plain view of the owner of the business. He calls the owner's debtors in and reduced their bills, cutting one of the bills in half for one of the customers. This he did because he was told he couldn't be manager any longer. So he surmised that doing this for these people would put them in debt to him when he was thrown out of a job and would be in need of help. My next question is, 'How did the owner know about the manager reducing the debt for the customers? It isn't told; it just says that the owner, "commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness." (Lk 16:8). It doesn't say he commended him for his dishonesty, but for his shrewdness, for being astute. The manager was dishonest but he was cunning. This parable has been greatly misunderstood and overanalyzed; the master in this story is symbolic of who God is; the manager can be anybody; are we to think that if we are found to be not handling properly what God has given us to do, it's okay for us to start wheeling and dealing in a shady way so that it works out in our favor? No, that wasn't the point Jesus was trying to make. The manager is known as the "dishonest manager." He isn't called the shrewd manager. But the owner found something about him that he admired, and Jesus told the disciples that it was a trait that the sons of light would do well to emulate. "For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings" (Luke 16:8,9). What is Jesus talking about? The dishonest manager was called shrewd by his master; he was astute; he was crafty; the sons of light (Christians) would be called discerning if we do what he did. What did he do? He planned ahead! He saw what he was about to face and he came up with a plan! It was treacherous, but that isn't the point; it's about how clever he is; he came up with a plan! He was duly warned of the oncoming disaster. He didn't just tighten his belt and grip the steering wheel; he planned a way out for himself and was praised for it. Jesus is telling us that we need to get good at planning for what is sure to come. And what is that? It's when we can no longer be manager of what God has given us, whatever that might be. There's a lot of overanalysis of this parable because of the term "unrighteous mammon." That's not our view of wealth. The most prominent pastors among us are men of great wealth. They will twist this parable into every kind of knot to make what Jesus said about money to mean something different than what is said. I'm not that easy to convince. Jesus says 'if you're faithful in what is least, you'll be faithful in much, and the unjust in what is least will be unjust in much.' Wealth is being called "what is least." Wealthy pastors don't need to run for cover for being blessed by God to do well in an ungodly, unrighteous world. Most of them have been faithful in what is much (the teaching of the gospel) and have been entrusted with what is least (unrighteous mammon). It's all in how you understand truth. This is an unrighteous, ungodly, sinful world. If you're a manager (we all are), your management like all else that's here, is temporary; so you need to have a plan for what you're going to do when you can no longer be manager. Because it's coming! So who brought the initial accusation against the manager? The same one who accuses all of us. We are all dishonest managers.
Jesus is using this parable to teach us His viewpoint on economics, which includes both 'righteous' and 'unrighteous' wealth. Whenever Jesus is speaking of 'unrighteous' wealth, He uses the term 'mammon' which is the name of a pagan god of greed who 'blinds' its victims and unwittingly destroys them inside its own economic system. No one inside this system realizes what is happening to them. Today, we call it 'progress' and its hapless victims the 'price of progress.' This system is operated by evil and Jesus calls its wealth 'Caesar's money,' after the role of government and its corrupt or criminal 'enforcers' who help it achieve its objectives. It involves any form of commerce that is not dedicated solely to the pursuit of 'basic necessities,' (that is, healthy food, clean drink and 'covering' [clothing and housing]). The Lord contrasts this with 'GOD's wealth' and 'GOD's money' which is any resource gained by commerce aimed at producing and distributing 'basic necessities,' including any money collected for the poor for this purpose ONLY. GOD sets no limits on such wealth because it directly reflects righteousness itself by lifting up the poor. The Lord condemns any 'taxation' of this form of wealth. Though He once paid it anyway by 'finding' some of the 'other' kind instead and returning the misappropriated wealth back to 'Caesar,' thereby 'ending the offense' (Matthew 17:24-27). This particular parable centers around a manager of 'mammon' who invested his wealthy client's resources unwisely, (which is MUCH easier to do because it is far more complex than dealing with only 'basic necessities'). The manager knew that he was in big trouble and was going to be fired and probably sued. Jesus goes on to explain that the manager had a brilliant idea about how to help himself survive the disaster. While he still had authority to manage the business affairs, he started writing up contracts heavily favoring the people who were 'defaulting' on their business arrangements. They were thrilled to hear this since they were just as likely to be sued themselves. As it turns out, all of the people were decent folks who simply couldn't live up to the original contracts because they were unfairly favorable to the wealthy client. By merely 'making them more fair' they were able to pay off the debts and the money started flowing in. When the wealthy client realized what was happening, he was quite impressed because the manager was recovering more money than he had ever hoped to restore and all without having to involve lawyers! The most important part of the story is that this once 'financially doomed' manager had now made himself his own safety net against poverty by making 'good friends' who had just been delivered from disaster by his quick thinking. They remained in good financial standing and had 'eternal dwellings,' (from the manager's point of view), because their overall stability meant he was safe. None of them would ever let their 'new friend' go without basic necessities! In fact, all it would take is one of them to 'help' and he had many grateful new 'friends.' Jesus concludes by turning to us and saying, "Now you 'make for yourself friends' in this same way. That is how I want you to interact with 'Caesar's money' when you come across it. Keep people out of his debt and be shrewd in how you handle these important matters. Don't 'accept defeat' and let everyone involved suffer just because an evil system insists on it. You are free to 'interpret' money as you please. Keep peace and be a peacemaker yourself. Of course, if we focus our primary attention on basic necessities and 'GOD's money' we are always better off, (Hebrews 13:5). However, when life or society itself makes that impossible or very troublesome, 'make friends' anyway and stay out of poverty! We can't help others if we are desperate for help ourselves! Here's how you make sure to avoid poverty. That's the point of the parable of the 'shrewd steward.'
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