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. 2So 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.’ 3Then 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. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’7Then 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.’ 8And 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 generation than are the children of light.
9And 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. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?
13No 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.” 14The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
Aesop tells a famous story, “A Fox once saw a Crow fly off with a piece of cheese in its beak and settle on a branch of a tree. “That’s for me, as I am a Fox,” and he walked up to the foot of the tree. “Good day, Mistress Crow,” he cried. “How well you are looking today: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of Birds.” The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox. “That will do,” said he. “That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the future: “Do not trust flatterers.”
As we just finished a major political time in our lives, I couldn’t help but think about all the politicians…on both sides…who used deception as a tactic to win office. I think we could agree that all politicians do this – if we ever came across one that didn’t, I’m not sure people would vote for them! Now, I can certainly understand deception and manipulation as a tactic in politics, and even in business. It may not be right, but I can understand why people do it. In our culture, we prize the one who can win – regardless of the cost.
But that isn’t what the Bible teaches, is it? I have to admit to you this morning; this parable of Jesus is one of the most perplexing passages of scripture in the Bible. Even amount great scholars and theologians, there are a variety of interpretations of this passage. There are two things we know for sure. This parable is about deceit and this parable is about money.
The story is set in a context in which wealth is important. Luke 16 begins with an acknowledgment of a rich man whose manager was accused of “squandering his property” (v. 1). The disciples are warned that they cannot “serve God and wealth” (v. 13). In the midst of the chapter we are told of “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money” (v. 14) and who sneered at Jesus. And at the end of chapter 16, we close with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (vv. 19–31). This parable clearly has to do with money. But what is it Jesus wants us to know?
A great clue for helping us to discover the meaning of this passage is at the end, verses 9-15, when we see who Jesus is addressing. In the crowd are the Pharisees, who Luke characterizes as “lovers of money” (v. 14). They even respond to this lesson with ridicule of Jesus. So we know the parable is about the role of money. And now we know the Pharisees are present and addressed. Is this parable about the way they live and operate?
The dishonest manager, some translations use “shrewd”, but we know he was “squandering” his master’s wealth even before the actions in this parable. Once he is found out, he uses the things around him. He puts his trust in wealth and obligation to shelter his own uncertain future. Through his gifts to the debtors, he seeks, not to free them of debt, but rather to indebt them to him in the form of a return gift. The gift functions to situate himself as a one to whom gratitude is owed. In this way, he uses money to his benefit. To provide his wellbeing.
If we read this way, the problem with the unjust steward is not that he “gifted” his master’s debtors (even his master commends him for this), but that his gifting was poisoned by the ulterior motive of receiving something back from those to whom he gave. He is trusting in wealth for his future security. He is manipulating the economy around him and putting his trust in things.
Then we see the Pharisees in the corner, the focus of this parable and we see the message more clearly. Jesus is insinuating that the Pharisees are squandering the master’s wealth. They have put their trust and hope in things. Selling out. Settling in.
But the message doesn’t stop with the Pharisees. We are the modern day Pharisees. Some of us in the middle of our journey find ourselves not living for Christ as much as putting our trust in things to sustain us. We stopped believing that Jesus died and was resurrected and that life was made new. Somewhere along the way it became easy to serve all those pressing demands: of people, of schedule, of money. Somewhere along the way, the vision for God’s call became cloudy and muddled. We stopped hearing God’s voice and joined the crazy survivor-takes-all mentality. Somewhere along the way, the challenges seemed so much bigger than the answers. So we huddled in an effort to save whatever was left and forgot about living for something greater. We buried our treasures.
Christine Pohl, in an essay titled “Profit and Loss,” makes a revealing point about how the parable uncovers the pervasiveness of our love of money. She contends that “Jesus does not commend the manager’s practices, but rather his insight into the connection between resources and relationships.
And so the question for us today, is the question for the Pharisees who were present. Have we lost the vision of who God has called us to be? Have we traded our call to be God’s people and instead become servants of the treasures of the present day? Are we so controlled by wealth, by money, even complacency, that we have simply blended into society and lost their vision. Jesus said in verse 13, “You can either serve this present age and love its treasures, or you can love God and serve him in this present age. But you cannot do both. One leads to death. The other leads to life.”
We are what we value. Where do you put your trust?