Podcast: The Parable of the Unjust Manager in Luke 16
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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[a] 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[b] of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. 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.
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
What Makes This Text Difficult?
The left turn in this text happens when we see the servant undermining his master, and the master commends him for his shrewdness in caring for himself. Is Jesus commending this deceitful servant as well? Additionally, what is the servant doing when he gets the people to reduce their debt to his master? What application can we glean from this?
The crux of this parable seems to be the wisdom of using current means (property, belongings, finances) to care for needs. While the dishonesty is not being praised, the shrewdness is.
The Servant’s Shrewdness
The servant in this parable is about to be fired due to cheating his master. He returned to his master’s debtors and reduced the amount they owed his master. In the law, Jews are forbidden from charging interest when buying/selling among each other.
To counter this lack of interest, Jews would often increase the item’s price. It is possible that the servant was cutting out the usury and interest that his master had charged.
The issue in this parable and in Jesus’ application is that Christians are called to be faithful in how they use current possessions and get the most out of what they already have. How one manages their limited means will determine how they manage much. This parable also shows us that we can learn noble characteristics from those who are unjust (the judge/servant) – it is possible to be moral and not have a godly motivation.
Christ’s heart behind this parable is his desire for believers to be as invested in spiritual matters as worldly individuals are in worldly matters. Christians should be more faithful with spiritual wealth than earthly financial wealth. It is a matter of eternity.
The key line in this parable is, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”
How often are your intellect and motivation completely engaged in pursuing spiritual things versus the things of this world? Are you actively engaged in spiritual things, or is your mind constantly engaged in the things of this sinful world?
Another broad point is that in light of eternity, our finances ultimately do not matter that much—notice Jesus’ last sentence by way of application. Yes, we are called to be good stewards of our finances, but we are not to live with the end goal of financial wealth.
Brittany Proffitt lives in Dallas and is a writer and content manager for So We Speak.