Jesus told a parable to his disciples that many Christians today find baffling. Let review Jesus’s parable of the shrewd manager.
Jesus told this story to his disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs. One day a report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money. So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Get your report in order, because you are going to be fired.’
“The manager thought to himself, ‘Now what? My boss has fired me. I don’t have the strength to dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. Ah, I know how to ensure that I’ll have plenty of friends who will give me a home when I am fired.’
“So he invited each person who owed money to his employer to come and discuss the situation. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe him?’ The man replied, ‘I owe him 800 gallons of olive oil.’ So the manager told him, ‘Take the bill and quickly change it to 400 gallons.’
“‘And how much do you owe my employer?’ he asked the next man. ‘I owe him 1,000 bushels of wheat,’ was the reply. ‘Here,’ the manager said, ‘take the bill and change it to 800 bushels.’
“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. Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”
The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him. Then he said to them, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God. Luke 16:1-15
So, what is the lesson that Jesus is conveying in this parable? Is Jesus encouraging Christians to be deceitful in order to avoid trouble or the consequences of their actions? No… Is Jesus recommending that Christians commit theft from their employers for their own benefit? No, God forbid…
Many Christians can get lost in the details of Jesus’s parables and miss the point that is being conveyed. Jesus makes it very clear at the conclusion of the parable what the point is. We are to “use our worldly resources to benefit others and make friends”. What does this mean?
When each of us reaches the end of this life we leave everything we have accumulated behind. When Jesus calls us up out of the grave during the resurrection what can we bring with us? We will only bring with us in the next life one thing from this life; the human relationships we have nurtured and invested our time and energy into.
In the parable Jesus compares our relationship to God with the manager’s relationship to the rich man. God created the earth and everything in it. God placed man on earth as his representative to care for and tend to his creation. All our worldly wealth is not ours; it all belongs to God. We are all, each of us, only temporary stewards of God’s resources. We are to utilize God’s resources as he commands us to.
How does God want his resources used? Jesus teaches us to use his resources to benefit others; to nurture, care for, and support his children. Jesus wants generosity engrained in the hearts of all his disciples.
The shrewd manager was wise enough to use the resources at his disposal to benefit himself from a worldly perspective. Jesus is calling us to use our Lord’s resources for a heavenly purpose. We are to use them for the good and just ends that he has called us to. God has made it clear that we should use our resources to help the poor and those in need. If we horde up our resources, then we are not using them according to the Lord’s wishes. If we cannot be trusted to dispense with these worldly resources as we have been commanded to during this short life, then how can God entrust us with his heavenly riches? The person that closes their hand into a grasping fist cannot enter God’s kingdom. To enter God’s kingdom requires an open hand to others. For God, how we manage his resources is a vital matter of faith and trust.
Jesus makes it clear that we cannot serve two masters. We will either love money and hate God, or love God and hate money. Jesus does not give us a third option in his equation. If we put our trust in money, then we cannot place our trust in God. We can either serve God or be enslaved to money. There is no option given to us by Jesus to choose both. We can’t say “give me the money and give me Jesus”. God is calling us to decide which master we will be faithful too. The choice is black and white. Jesus is calling us to make a choice.
On the outside the Pharisees looked righteous, but they loved money. They thought they could serve God and love money. Jesus says no. The Pharisees made their choice in their hearts about who they would serve. All their religious pomp and exertions was simply in service of their pride. God provide us with a simple equation:
“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Proverbs 14:31
This world honors wealth. The rich are held in the highest regards. They receive deference and respect. They sit in places of honor and are placed in positions of authority. The wealthy are admired and emulated. But what this world honors is seen as detestable in the sight of God.
This world scorns poverty. The poor are disparaged, disregarded, and dishonored. But God views the poor differently from the way the world does. God identifies so closely with the poor, that to insult the poor is to insult God, and to show kindness to the poor, is to be a friend of God. - Mike Humphrey