The Parable of the Dishonest Manager
16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own genera- tion than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dis- honest wealth,[d] who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faith- ful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
A good friend of mine, Dr. Dean Nicholas, who’s the principal at CHCA and holds a Ph.D. from Hebrew Union and lives just up the street from us, wrote a book on the “tricksters” in the Bible.
This concept as a long history in many ancient cultures, and certainly in Jewish writings. The basic concept is that God will sometimes honor folks in the Bible who trick others into doing or acting a certain way to get themselves or others to move in a different direc- tion, to change the story that we find ourselves in. The story of Jacob and Esau, of Joseph and his brothers, etc. All have a sense of “tricking” if you will, or doing something that isn’t obvious at first, and then moving folks towards a different outcome…and seemingly God works it not only for their good, but for the good of others.
Our gospel lesson this morning has a sort of “trickster” feel to it. Jesus is sharing a parable, a story about a rich man. Many of Jesus’ stories talk about wealthy folks. Essentially, because Jesus is drawing out that wealth oftentimes gets in the way of how others are treated or looked upon. It’s sets up real boundaries or walls between us.
This story is in between the stories that Jesus shares about the prodigal son and the divide between the rich man and Lazarus, but with a twist.
This rich man has a manager for his business dealings. Apparently this manager wasn’t doing so good, so the rich man calls him towards accountability for how he’s handled his possessions.
The manager realizes his job is about to be taken away, he realizes he doesn’t want to be out on the street or doing hard labor…he’s not depicted in the most flattering way, is he? But, he is shrewd, so knowing he has nothing to lose because his boss is going to take his job away, he goes to the people that are indebted to his master. He takes their accounts and greatly reduces the amount that each person owes. He does this knowing that his master’s debtors will be grateful and take him in, show him hospitality as he gives them a huge break. He tricks the master before the master actually fires him. Pretty dishonest, and the master realizes it.
So, what does the master do, he commends the manager, congratulates him even.
Now, we may read this today and think at how wrong this is…at best, we wonder why this is even the bible. Is Jesus telling us to act shrewdly? Jesus doesn’t say to be dishonest, but Jesus does say that we can learn from folks who act in gracious ways, even if it’s out of self-centered way. Oftentimes, unchurched folks act more gracious than the disciples, or the children of the light as Jesus says in this passage. It may be out of a sense of self-preservation, but their actions still produce a blessing.
In essence, Jesus is saying that God works through the actions of the trickster manager, he redeems his actions somehow and blesses others. That no matter what happens, God will work towards the good of others.
One commentary that I read this week brought it home well. The manager is making friends through dishonest wealth, yet those friendships are there for him. God is calling us towards a relational way of living, we are called to make friends as well, albeit in a more just and honest way. We are called to not collect debts, just as we pray to be forgiv- en of our debts and to forgive our debtors. By so doing and acting, by working towards unity and friendship and not trying to win or dredge up past wrongs or indebtedness, but through forgiveness and grace towards others and ourselves, we can love well and see friendships, true friendships form.
We need that kind of wealth of community. By so doing, by blessing others and our neighbors, when we need them, they more likely to be there for us.
Jesus is telling his disciples, learn to make friends, and in so doing, cultivate a healthy sense of reciprocal love.
So much of Jesus’ followers existence was based on the hospitality of others, so it must be with us. It is hard for us to lean in on the generosity of others, yet we learn a lot when we do…and when we extend it with true authenticity and not for any other reason than to bless others.
Jesus is saying also that we have to understand that we can’t serve two masters, it’s either the way of money, our a life based on transactions, or the way of God, which is based on authentic love and community. You can’t have both being dominate. Our attempts to preserve ourselves or our institutions through maintaining a status quo mindset ultimately still leads towards death. We have to have movement within our institutions that is initi- ated by authentic friendship and working towards the common good…institutions then can bless that work, which actually, ultimately, leads to their reformation and growth. If we share what we have, as Jesus says clearly in this passage, being trusted with much means to share it with others…this trust that God has given us with materials to bless others, then we will be given true riches as it says in verse 11…those true riches are found in the Kingdom of God, the presence of God with one another.
The manager in our gospel lesson may have learned something as well even beyond his part in the parable…a lesson open to all of us. God’s love for us is fierce. It doesn’t always make sense, this love sometimes seems to trick us into doing and being in ways that we don’t understand. Yet, the love also produces within us a fierceness that moves us towards the other, towards accepting ourselves, and to a God who rewards us with rela- tionships and community that may surprise us.
Friends, may we live in a fierce love of God, not of money or possessions, or even institutional preservation…may we live loving new folks that we meet in and out of the church, and may we live loving each other even as we experience God’s love for us.