Luke 16:1-13: “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager”
“Now He was also saying to the disciples, ‘There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and this steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ And the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg.
“I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the stewardship, they will receive me into their homes.’ And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And 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?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’
“And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly, for the sons of this age are shrewder in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. He who is faithful in a little thing is faithful also in much, and he who is unrighteous in a little thing is unrighteous also in much. If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you?
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon’” (Luke 16:1-13, NASB).
This is an unusual parable on which I did not want to examine or give any time to because, at first glance, Jesus is describing a situation that, on the surface, seems to justify underhanded behavior. It seems out of character with the lessons the Lord Jesus has presented in not just this Gospel, but the other accounts of His life and ministry as well. Yet, this parable of Jesus is in the Holy Scriptures by the will and direction of the Sovereign LORD, and it was written for a reason (Psalm 119:89; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18, 24:35; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).
When Jesus tells this story, He makes a point that we who are His followers tend to want to ignore, and that is we may not be of the world, but we have to live in it and deal with the fact that not everyone we encounter is going to be a model of virtue and moral behavior.
The people that Jesus uses in His teaching as illustrations are not always what we would call “good” people. They are often scoundrels that end up paying the consequences of their bad deeds or words (Luke 12:13-21; 16:19-31; 18:1-17). From them we learn that we need to be in step with God’s will and direction for our lives. This parable concerning a dishonest manager has a different approach. Jesus will show that the manager’s actions are questionable but clever in that they achieve a beneficial purpose that we can use in our own journey through life. God uses worldly-minded people to accomplish His work since He made them in the first place and can do with them as He pleases so that, in all things, He will get the honor and glory that is due Him by His creation.
As we read the account of the manager’s actions in this parable, note that the Lord Jesus never commended him for the deed that caused him to be dismissed from his position. He never condones wicked or malicious behavior or activity, but He will point out that the man used his common sense and prepared for the times ahead by practicing business transactions that profited both him, the debtors, and the rich man. He was both benevolent as well as a clever businessman. Good consequences arose from bad situations. He also kept the door open for possible reconciliation between himself and his former master.
The steward never denied his dishonesty in handling his master’s affairs. He took full blame and responsibility for his deeds and accepted the consequences without anger or a sense of being treated unfairly. Unlike people today, and some folks who say they are followers of Jesus Christ, he did not sit down in the dust and throw a pity party or speak ill of his former employer. He still fulfilled a business obligation that he could have simply abandoned and let his former employer deal with it. Christian, think of how you may have ruined your testimony and witness because you left a job unexpectedly, or made excuses not to come to work, or left a co-worker to finish a task, or spoke ill of a former employer. We wonder why people reject the claims of the Gospel, and then incidents like this occur far too often. He who has ears to hear, listen!
The steward did not go to the welfare office and draw unemployment like most of us would do today, because no such benefit existed. When you lost a job, you took it upon yourself to go find another one so you could have food, shelter, clothing, and care for your family. He did not sit around and wait for someone to give him work or assistance. There was no such thing as a sense of entitlement in those days, either. You took what was available and made the best of it until something better came along. This steward was not strong enough to endure hard manual labor, and he would not humiliate himself by begging for alms. He had an idea, however, that would help him in his time of need and open the door for good relations with those people who were his former master’s customers.
Jesus is telling us to take a cue from this man’s clever thinking and use it for our own good when times get difficult, as they are now.
The steward also considers the debtors to the rich man. He works out a plan that will get him in good with these customers and assist the former master in receiving that which is due him. If President Trump had written The Art of the Deal in that era, no doubt this steward would have had a copy on hand. He is going to make deals and do business which will benefit everyone, and in turn, repair his reputation and make him employable in the future. As someone who made his living in the jewelry industry many years ago, I can speak from a perspective that is in line with the steward’s approach.
When I sold jewelry, I was taught by the company to consider the customer’s purpose for being in the store. Even if they said they were just “looking around,” I would ask if they had ever been in this store before, and if not, would they allow me to show them around and let them see what we had. Usually that got them paying attention to a couple of items and then ask me if I would take one out of the case and let them look at it. If they had questions, I would answer them and then ask if anyone had ever taken the time to show them what to look for in a diamond or stone, or explain how the features worked on a particular brand of watch.
I did not want to merely sell the customer a product and then see them as a means of making my quota for the day. My goal was to have this person, his family, co-workers, and friends as both permanent and future clients. I wanted everyone I met to be satisfied with what they bought, and to assist in helping them get WHAT THEY COULD AFFORD. I was never “high pressure,” and I did not want to burden anyone with payments they could not handle. I did not want returns or angry customers. I made deals where I gave discounts, reduced the price of a repair, or ordered a custom piece. In the end, the customer was happy, I got my commission, and the company made a profit. It was good for everyone concerned.
This is what the steward did by reducing what each debtor owed. They ended up paying off their debt, and the rich man received what was due him. The steward now had a place to stay and was assured of care for the time being due to the debtor’s gratitude and appreciation for what had been done. What could have been an episode of bitterness, self-pity, and disdain on the part of the steward had ended up as a model of maturity, accepting responsibility for one’s actions, fulfilling obligations, benevolence, common sense, preparedness, and reconciliation along with rebuilding a reputation that could have been ruined for all time.
The steward was not a reprobate or constantly doing evil deeds. He made a mistake that was his own fault and owned up to it. It turned out well for him. I would hope that this is a sobering lesson in maturity for this present generation of believers who may be tempted to act like the world owes them a living. Jesus told this story for a reason. Think on it.