The Shrewd Manager
Luke 16: 1 — 13
This week's reading begins a series of seven reflections on obstacles facing the disciples of Jesus. These reflections take us finally to Jerusalem, where, briefly, we observe Jesus teaching.
The first 13 verses of Luke 16 are usually looked upon as more than a little confusing. This is due to a number of factors which converge at this point. We offer a special section of preparatory notes to help readers and leaders prepare to meditate on this wonderful reading and suggest it is worth considering.
Some Notes On Our Text
Verse 1 (a)
Our reading begins with the words literally translated: "He said also to the disciples…." These tell us that this particular lesson continued our Lord's teaching in the same location as the previous section (the prodigal son) but it was directed to the disciples of Jesus generally. We know that some wealthy Pharisees overheard him as is evidenced in verse 14: but more about that next week.
Verses 1 (b) — 8 (a) This is the familiar parable of the "unjust steward", or shrewd manager. We offer commentary first, based on "The Gospel Story" by Ronald Cox (CYM Publications 1957). Then we follow it with some additional notes.
It is vital to note that in verse 8 (a), it is the dishonest manager's master who praised him for his shrewd actions to get him out of trouble — not Jesus. Our Lord, in telling his parable, "tells it as it is", and has no hesitation calling him dishonest.
An observation of people who are dishonest in business is that they admire the deceitful artifices of others and often adopt them themselves. In our story, at no time does Jesus hold up the unjust steward/manager's behaviour for his disciples to follow or use as any kind of model. The landowner could be said to betray himself by praising the trickery of his employee. The words he used to describe his employee's behaviour were "acting shrewdly". In the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament the same base word is used to describe the serpent in Genesis 3: 1 i.e. cunning.
Our Lord closes his parable, therefore hinting that they both used their wits and cunning to get ahead, and it's not surprising they applied such attitudes to each other. That, he implies, is the way of the world, and it is as despicable as it is treacherous.
Verses 8 (b) and 9
Jesus then, in a breath, provides in a very condensed form, what he wants his followers to "take on board" from this unexpected story. He says:
It is critical that we understand this sentence or we will remain confused for a long time! In essence, Jesus might say something like this in our culture:
Verses 10 - 13
St Luke caps this lesson of Jesus with a small cluster of teachings which reinforce the main lesson. They embody the correct attitude for Christians towards ownership and stewardship. In particular they keep before us the fact that, really, all earthly wealth is only on loan to us and is never for our own exclusive benefit. Only by remembering this will we prevent selfish pursuits from becoming our main goal in life.
In plain language we could say that Jesus is very direct and leaves no room for confusion. The path taken by the shrewd manager can only lead in one direction, and it is not an option for the Christian.
The followers of Christ are required to use their talents and possessions in a way, which benefits others as well as themselves. This will lead them on the path to heaven, which is their destiny. You cannot tread both paths — they lead in opposite directions. "You cannot serve God and Mammon."
Copyright © 2000 Community of Affirmation