Luke 16:1-9 Parable of the Shrewd Manager

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

16:1 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.’ 3 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. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures [1] of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures [2] of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world [3] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, [4] so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

  • What does this passage mean?  Ezekiel 18 teaches that it is wrong to make money by lending at interest.  “Was the Bible against making money out of other money, or was it – was Jesus, indeed – telling us we should use any sharp financial practices we could to get ourselves out of difficulties.” N.T. Wright
  • How does this story work? 1.  The master in the story was not totally innocent.  It was unlawful to lend money at interest, but to get around this you could lend in kind with commodities, such as oil and wheat.  2.  It seems that what the steward deducted from the bill was the interest, leaving only the principal to be paid.  In this way, the debtors would be happy and the master couldn’t fault the steward without revealing his shady business practices.  The master could only admire the clever steward.
  • Remember that this is a parable and not some piece of moral teaching about money and how to use it.  Although, there is a moral lesson to be learned.
  • OK then, let us dissect the parable.   The master in the story is God; the steward is Israel.  Israel is meant to be God’s property manager, the light of God’s world, responsible to God and set over his possessions.  But Israel has squandered God’s property and God is not pleased.  What should Israel do?
  • The Pharisees answer was to become more holy by micromanaging the law.  They created these strict rules to follow and forced all to follow them.  By doing this they were excluding the very same people Jesus was reaching out to.  From this parable, Jesus is telling the Pharisees that instead of pushing people away, they ought to make friends.  This was the only way to avoid the coming crisis.
  • Therefore, instead of being a greedy miser, we should be generous to all people in order to make friends for ourselves.
  • So what do we make of this passage in our day?  “Obviously it has nothing to do with commending sharp practice in business or personal finance.  Rather it advises us to sit light to the extra regulations which we impose on one another, not least in the church, which are over and above the gospel itself.” N.T. Wright
  • Am I excluding people from God’s kingdom?  Am I doing whatever I can to make friends?  Am I using all my resources to introduce people to the gospel of Jesus Christ?  Have I become a Pharisee that only follows a list of rules?  God has trusted me with his property.  Am I squandering it?
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4 Responses to “Luke 16:1-9 Parable of the Shrewd Manager”

  1. Tracy Says:

    Interesting; in my morning time with God this was the passage I was meditating on. Throughout today I’ve been asking myself similar questions to the ones you pose here. I’m reminded of just a few chapters earlier in Luke 12, when we’re given the principle in the 48th verse that to whom much is given, much is required. Just by the fact that I live here in America, I have so much…I want to make sure that I use what I have faithfully.

    • rjeffers Says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I love it when I read a passage of scripture in the morning and then later in the day I run across someone else who shares with me the same scripture. Whether it be by blog or by conversation it is always encouraging. It is at those times that I wonder, is this coincidence or is this providence? I’ll put my money on providence.

      Peace,
      Rob

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  3. Maria Says:

    In several cases, I find that one can’t only take a few sentences from the Bible and make sense of it. Only in reading further can you get the full meaning of what God is saying. Jesus says that the dishonest steward acted prudently. That is not necessarily a good thing. What did the steward do? He made money. That was prudent. Does Jesus look on this with a friendly eye? No. What He’s saying is that the world will praise that kind of dishonest behaviour. According to the world, getting money is most important. But I have news–when the steward is dead and rotting in his grave, his mammon won’t do him much good. Jesus wars us that we are likely going to be poor in this life. And we’re okay with that because we are not children of the world. We’re trying to be children of light. It may not be “prudent”, but it’s the right thing to do.

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