The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

Jesus told a parable that has been controversial ever since. It doesn’t need to be, but when it is not understood properly, it is easy to see why it can be. It’s the parable of the dishonest/shrewd steward (manager).

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. 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.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” (Luke 16:1-8a, ESV).

The story in itself is simple enough. A rich man hears that his money is being squandered by his money manager. So the rich man calls him in, tells him to turn in his ledgers and books. He’s finished working for him. It’s clear that the manager had no other skills and had prospered himself under the rich man’s money. There was no where to go now that he was fired. So before turning in the ledgers and books, he called on the debtors and lowered their debts by various sums. How clever! Dishonest? Yes, but very clever indeed. While one may not be able to admire the man’s dishonesty, he can certainly admire his quick-thinking. So the rich man does just that (this is where the controversy comes in). The rich man suffers loss at the hands of the manager, but he can’t help but admire his quick-thinking (his shrewdness). That quick-thinking made the rich man’s debtors indebted to him less and indebted to the manager even more. It would be cheaper for them to help out the manager than for them to pay back all that they owed to the rich man. That’s what we call, “thinking on your feet!”

So what’s the story about? It’s about us and about our use of money. Typically speaking, God is the owner of all and we are stewards (managers) of all he owns. That would include money. Jesus told this parable so that we were be more clever about how we use our money in this world. “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 16:8b-9, ESV).

Jesus wasn’t asking his followers to cheat God or their bosses or anyone else. What he was wanting them to do was to think cleverly about how they use the money that God has given to them. The shrewd (clever) manager initially was called into the rich man’s office because he wasn’t being so clever. In fact, he was using the rich man’s money to make himself comfortable—a little too comfortable, if you know what I mean. The truth is, many Christians are doing the same thing. Jesus said that there is more to God’s money than comfort. There are needs to be met. We need to be clever about how we spend our (actually God’s) money. If we spend $1,000 on a 72” 4K television that means we have $1,000 less to spend on our “friends.” Who are our “friends?” Fellow-believers in need. Jesus does not seem to be saying that we are to live like peasants, though some may hear the call to do so. He was calling us to think about our money carefully and cleverly. It is not for our posh life, or even extra-comfortable life, but for our “friends” in need.

There will be a day when money fails. That means, there will be a day when we die. As Paul wrote, “for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world,” (1 Timothy 6:7, ESV). Money will eventually fail us at death. But in that moment just before death, we can think about all that we have done with God’s riches. We can think of all who have been helped and blessed because we dealt wisely and cleverly with the money in our pockets and in our accounts. These friends who have gone before us will welcome us into heaven, our eternal dwells. As Randy Alcorn has said, “We can’t take it with us, but we can send it on ahead.”

So friends, let us be clever with what we have been given.

The Parable of the Lost: Part 3 (Son)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way,”* (Isaiah 53:6a, ESV). In Isaiah’s day, some 2700 years ago, this was an indictment. Today, it is a goal. We have heard for decades that we are to be true to ourselves, follow our hearts, buck the system, stick it to the man, or other similar phrases that tell us to go our own way. It really isn’t new; while it may not have been celebrated as it is today, it was still a temptation. It’s exactly what one of the sons did in the parable of the lost son.

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:11-32, ESV)

This is probably the most well-known parable that Jesus told, rivaled only by the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, the youngest son basically tells his dad that since his dad is taking his dear sweet time dying, that he’d just as soon take his portion of the inheritance and start his own life. He wanted to go his own way and leave behind the life his father had for him. Of course, he goes and squanders his inheritance (which is what prodigal means – squandering) and gets himself into trouble. He has no shelter, no food, nothing. Sometimes the most loving act a father can do is to allow his child to come to an end in themselves. It is to let them go until they see the error of their way. Solomon wrote about this: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death,” (Prov. 14:12, ESV). That’s the way this young man took. It seemed so right, but nearly ended with his demise. Realizing he was alone and death was just around the corner, he also realized that he was a fool. He need only go back to his father and live as a slave. It would be humiliating, but life-saving.

We know the story; in fact, we just read the story. He goes back, his father sees from afar, runs to him, hugs him, gives him a ring, a robe, shoes, and a party. Slave!? Never! He is still a son! Most likely the clothes that the son wore were in tatters. No more! Only the best for the newly found son! Like the other two parables of the lost sheep and lost coin, a party was thrown. It was time to celebrate. It was time to eat.

The second son, hearing the festivities went and asked a servant what was happening and was told that his brother had come back. Like the Pharisees and scribes, he was incensed that his father would be eating with such a sinner (Luke 15:1). And he called him on it. The father sought to explain, just as Jesus had been doing in this and the previous two parables, but the brother refused to listen and join the festivities; he went his own way rather than his father’s way. The only thing worse than being lost is being lost and not knowing you’re lost. Because when you don’t know you’re lost, you don’t think you need to be found.

The heart of the brother, the heart of the Pharisees and scribes, was even more lost than the sheep, the coin, or the brother who went astray. None of the religious leaders could understand they were lost and in need of being found or that they too could dine with Jesus in celebration. They too could dine with sinners and rejoice with God in the finding of those lost. As Tim Chester pointed out in his book, A Meal with Jesus, “Our parties are to be a reflection—albeit a pale reflection—of God’s great banquet.”** If we have been found, then let us be party-givers as we join with Jesus to seek and find others who are lost. Let us reflect God’s love and his joy over seeking and saving those who are lost.

*If you want to hear my favorite sermon on Isaiah 53:6, click here and listen to Pastor Albert N. Martin’s message.

**Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2011), 79.

That being said…