Summary: Parables for Stewards, Pt. 5


I searched the web for what makes a good hire and what makes a bad hire to the following quotes:

“A good hire is hard to find.”

“Making a good hire is important, keeping a good hire is far more important.”

The cost of making a good hire is high; the cost of making a bad hire is even greater.”

“A bad hire is the worse mistake managers can make.”

“A bad hire is worse than no hire.” (the most popular on the Net)

A management company (Right Management) surveyed 444 human-resource professionals to determine how much it costs a company to replace an employee who doesn’t work out, including the cost of recruitment, training, severance and lost productivity. 15% say it is equal to the employee’s annual salary, a high 42% claim it costs them two times the annual salary, a lower 26% answer to three times annual salary, a surprising 6% maintain it is four times, and a shocking 11% insist it is five times! (USA Today 7/25/06, “High Cost of a Bad Hire”)

No parable of Jesus is more controversial to tackle and more difficult to understand than the parable of the unjust steward, and critics of the Bible have a field day pointing to the apparent contradiction and questioning the propriety of the metaphor. The target group in Jesus’ parable was the Pharisees even though it is addressed to the disciples. He used a dishonest crook not to teach his disciples to learn from his dishonesty but to learn despite his dishonesty; not to learn from him, but to learn about him.

The Intuition Quotient: Don’t Be Inept on the Job

16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ’What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ (Luke 16:1-2)

There is a premium of Internet advice on what not to waste money on besides specific video games, computer accessories and movies:

“Do not waste money on useless lotions.”

“Do not waste money on expensive course prep stuff.”

“Do not waste money on home equipment or health gyms.”

“Do not waste money on superfluous jerseys, scarves, over-coats.”

“Do not waste money on nice covers or binders.”

“Do not waste money on fancy bows and glittery wrappings.”

“Do not waste money on scholarship searches that charge a fee.”

“Do not waste money on fad diets.”

“Do not waste money on web sites that will submit your web site to 1 million search engines. “

“Do not waste money on gas masks or bio suits.”

“Do not waste money on bargains that you see on your computer screen.”

The Greek word for “manager” or “steward” (v 1) has been translated elsewhere in the NIV as “city’s director of public works” (Rom 16:23), “trustee” (Gal 4:2), and “those who have been given a trust” (1 Cor 4:2). The manager in the parable was not a servant belonging to his master that came cheap or was inexpensive; he was hired and paid handsomely for his services. The hireling was often compared mistakenly with Joseph, who was a slave and not an employee (Gen 37:36), so Joseph’s services were free and his master did not have to pay extra for his work.

The steward was fired not because of corruption, embezzlement, fraud or theft. He wasn’t cooking the books or lining his own pocket. He was not accused of wrongdoing but of wasting his employer’s possession and resources – of being careless, spendthrift and wasteful. The Greek word for “wasting” (v 1) is the same word applied to the prodigal who “squandered his wealth” in wild living (Luke 15:13). Worse, the steward never did something about it or did not have an answer for it. Maybe he thought the employer wouldn’t miss the money. The employer was rich, but he was not a bank, and even if he could afford to absorb the loss, he wouldn’t want to maintain the payroll. The owner had to revamp or end the business or cut the manager and trim the payroll. At this point, he was not thinking of profit but of stopping the bleeding.

The manager had a Washington or Sacramento big-government spend-spend or tax-tax mentality, spending the money of others and socking the bill to the taxpayers - or the owner, in this case. In today’s term, he was guilty of poor management and bad decision-making, but not of shoddy business practices or white-collar crime. He did not commit a crime or he would have been arrested, charged and jailed. Still, the man was clueless, naïve and oblivious to the problem. The Greek word “accused” (v 1) is used on no other person and in nowhere else in the Bible. He did not bring up the mistakes or missteps to the employer; the owner had to take up the matter with him. The manager had nothing to say and nobody to blame. The rich man had to let him go; he was losing money on the manager who had no clue on how to repair the damage, repay the debt or recover the loss. The hiring was a disaster. The manager was paid good money to make more money, not to lose revenue or post losses for his employer.

The Intervention Quotient: Don’t Be Inflexible in Your Thinking

3 “The manager said to himself, ’What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg- 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ’How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “’Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ’Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ’And how much do you owe?’ “’A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ’Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. (Luke 16:3-8)

The Tom Hanks-Leonardo DiCaprio movie “Catch Me If You Can” was an enjoyable movie despite its focus on the ins and outs and the rise and fall of a forger. The movie was the real life story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a young forger who made a career and fortune swindling banks out of millions of dollars and impersonating roles that paid off handsomely and socially for him. The DiCaprio character conned himself into a dream hospital job supervising doctors, later into a prestigious law firm and then into a non-flying pilot’s job even though he had never been to college, law school or flying school.

The cop hot on the heels and trail of DiCaprio was played by Tom Hanks, who vowed to capture DiCaprio while at the same time marveled at what the con man could get away with and where his next job was.

Hanks’ resolve and DiCaprio’s mistakes finally ended the chase. Hanks got back at DiCaprio but he did not give up on him. After DiCaprio was behind bars for some time, Hanks softened and had an idea: he introduced the forger to his boss who needed help on bank fraud prevention. In the end, the authorities freed him, gave him a job and used his skills to catch other forgers like him and to educate law enforcement officers on fraud prevention.

The former manager in the parable realized that he had it good previously spending others’ money. He realized that finding one’s own money and finding a similar job were harder than he thought. He even thought about changing jobs and giving up, but he realized he was not strong enough to dig or thick-skin enough to beg. The Greek word for “dig” (v 3) is used consistently elsewhere for labor-intensive and back-breaking jobs like the work of the house-builder who dug deep down to lay the foundation of the house on rock (Luke 6:48) and the skilled vineyard gardener who dug grounds to plant trees (Luke 13:8).

The compound word for “beg,” or ep-aiteo in Greek, is different from the regular compound verb for “begging,” or pros-aiteo (beg for), used exclusively on blind men such as Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46, Luke 18:35) and the man born blind in John 9 (John 9:8) who begged for a living. The word ep- means “upon”; so the epaiteo means “beg upon” – to “request upon” or “imposed upon.” The Chinese say “open the palms to ask people for money.” Unlike blind people, he had no personal disability, so begging and freeloading were out of the question. People would also object giving money to a healthy man. The word ‘ashamed” literally means “disfigurement,” possibly “no face.”

The ex-manager then decided he must put his brain to work and put on his thinking cap. He cut a bargain with his former employer’s debtors, generously giving them a steep 20% discount on wheat and a 50% discount on olive oil. There are at least two interpretations of how this worked in his favor. One, the debtors did not get their discount because it was illegal, but they were fooled into providing food and lodging to the man until he could find work and be independent. The loss was minimal because service was provided, and no job was offered or wages paid. Second, the house-owner could do nothing but grin and bear it, since the man was supposedly acting on his behalf. Both ways worked out for the man, and note we are not told the story had a happy ending.

The fact that the former manager was thinking about his livelihood and future, even if the ploy was unethical, deserves commendation. The fact that he was not a loser, even though he wasn’t a winner or a hero, deserves praise. Jesus did not say he was a success, but a survivor. Jesus did not extol his predator instinct but his survivor instinct. He did not say that the man was worth emulating, but that he was worth examining. He did not say the man had a sense of right and wrong, but that he had an awareness of crisis and opportunity, the cleverness many Christians lack. Matthew Henry commented, “He (Jesus) does not commend him because he had done falsely to his master, but because he had done wisely for himself.”

The master did more than “commended” the steward (v 8); in fact, he praised him! All other five occurrences of this Greek word have been translated to “praise” (Rom 15:11, 1 Cor 11:2, 17, 22, 22) in NIV except for this exception into “commend.”

The Investment Quotient: Don’t Be Imitators of the World

9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? (Luke 16:9-12)

Note that the story has no ending but a teaching. The point is not about the manager but the reader.

The Chinese say, “Learn the good things from people and not their bad.” The English have their own wise sayings on learning from people’s mistakes:

“Examine everything, keep the good, discard the bad.”

“There’s always something to be learned from those experiences, either positive or negative.”

“No matter how good you think you are there’s always something to be learned.”

“There’s always something to be learned, even from bad criticism.”

“One can learn something new everyday.”

“A smart guy learns from mistakes, and a wise guy learns from people’s mistakes.”

“Learn from people’s mistakes. You can’t live forever to make them all by yourself.”

“Fools never learn from their mistakes, the average person learns from his mistakes, and geniuses learn from people’s mistakes.”

“Sometimes we learn from people’s mistakes, sometimes from their examples, but always we have the opportunity to look around us and see ‘little mirrors’ of ourselves.”

“Learn from people’s mistakes, which is sad, because somebody always pays a price.”

The Greek version of verse 9 has nothing to do with exploiting people; it reads, “And I say to you, ‘Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, so that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.’” We are to be friends, not lovers or haters of money. “Worldly wealth” - mammon in Greek, is not idealistic; it is indeed unrighteous, yet we need not treat mammon as enemy or Satan. It is the value or significance we attach to it is the problem. Jesus is not saying money is everything, but like the Chinese say, “Money is not everything; but without it nothing works.” Jesus concluded the parable by appending verses 10-12 and making sure the hearers knew that he was not advocating deceit and dishonesty.

The problem of the manager in the story was that he was a hireling who did not care one way or the other about his employer’s money. A servant who had everything to lose would care passionately about his master’s money, but not so a hireling who had nothing to lose but a mere job in losing all of his employer’s money.

Jesus turned the story around to make it an investment issue. The manager was not trustworthy with his first employer and not truthful with his next employers. True, he got away with it, but only with “very little,” or “least” in Greek, on this side of earth. The handling of “worldly wealth” (11) is not a salvation test, but a stewardship test. What Jesus said about the manager is true of us. The money you have in your pocket, wallet or bank is not yours, but the Lord’s. God gave you money not as an enjoyment but as an examination, and not as an amusement but an assessment.

Not many things can truly test a person, but money is as basic and as convincing a test as any. Most people spend their money on themselves, some their money on others, but few spend on things of God. The point is not whether you are frugal or lavish, since God does not need money, but whether you are trustworthy, or the Greek word “faithful.” Can He give money to you in good faith? Are you going to spend it without thinking and without guilt like the manger, like you are the rightful owner and not God?

G. Campbell Morgan commented on this parable: “Money is not immoral. Money is non-moral. That is a very important distinction. Some people say money is the root of all evil. The Bible does not say so. Money is not the root of all evil. There is no evil in money, and there is no good in money. Money is entirely non-moral. It is the use of it which is good or evil. It may be used for good or for bad. We can take our money, and so use it to as to blast our own souls, and blast men and women round about us; or we can take that same money, and so use it to bless our own souls, and bless men and women round about us” (G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Luke 186).

God evaluates the person, not the possessions or property. He did not intend for you to be a shopper, but a steward. He intends for you to channel resources, not consume resources. Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Conclusion: Adults are finding to their pain that all the money in the world cannot buy their children good instincts, quick intuition and timely intervention. Young people live a sheltered life. They are taught to be good people and are protected from bad people. They have much but they lack heart; they have education, information and intelligence in hand but not wisdom, diplomacy and maturity in sight. Parents, do you shy away from telling your kids that having character is better than having cash? Have you lost your identity and be too identical or be too identified with the world? Hold to your ideals, but don’t be too idealistic either. Have you learned to integrate faith with life? Are you in the world but not of the world? We should not be invested in, identified with or imitators of the world and its way of life but we should not be irrelevant, ignorant and impractical either. The challenge is to make faith a way of life, not to make money an issue.

Victor Yap

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