Summary: The Parable of the Crooked Steward teaches us about what God expects of us as regards money. We have to choose whether we will serve Him or serve money.
Bad Books, Good Lessons
Enron. WorldCom. Martha Stewart. Parmalat. People playing loose and fast with numbers and bookkeeping. Today’s parable sounds like a story straight out of this week’s Time magazine.
The parable itself can be troublesome. My temptation was to skip it, to go straight on into the lessons that Jesus taught from it. Yet I’ve learned that many times that the parts of the Bible that I’m tempted to skip are the very ones I need to read.
So let’s take a look…
Depending on how you count them, Jesus told about 38 parables. Of those 38, 19 are about possessions and money. In fact, the Bible has a whole lot to say about how we handle money. There are actually many more passages on that than there are about essential doctrines like baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Maybe we need to take some time to see what Jesus has to say.
Luke 16:1-8 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 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.’
“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 — I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
“‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’
“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.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.
Today’s parable reminds me of the story of the man who was interviewing candidates for an accounting job. When the first man came in, the interviewer asked, “OK, what’s two plus two?” The candidate replied, “Four,” and the interview was over. Same thing happened with the next man. But the third candidate, when asked the same question, stood up and locked the door. He closed the blinds, then leaned over the desk and asked, “How much do you want it to be?”
I guess one of the surprising things about this parable is that the hero seems to be a crook. Maybe that’s because… he is a crook! Jesus calls him “the dishonest manager.” I’ve read commentators that tried to talk around that, that tried to show that the man didn’t do anything wrong. But I think Jesus is talking about a crook.
You see, Jesus on several occasions used bad people as examples in order to teach good lessons. One example is the unjust judge in Luke 18. The widow begs and begs, day after day, until the judge grants her request. And then Jesus teaches us that we should pray like that. Is he comparing God to this judge? By no means. He is merely using the unrighteous to teach about righteousness. When Jesus talked about his second coming, he compared it to a thief in the night. This image was so loved by his followers that both Peter and Paul repeat it in their writings. Will Jesus come to do harm like a thief? No! He is merely using the example of a bad person to teach a good lesson.
So what’s the point? Remember, that’s the question we need to ask with every parable. Parables are not allegories where each item in the story has a particular meaning. Like a good joke, you either get them or you don’t. You shouldn’t get caught up in the details.
This parable is different from most in that Jesus draws at least 5 different lessons from it! So the question should be what are the points?
1. The first one is in verse 8. Jesus talks about shrewdness, as he did in Matt. 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Christians can be a gullible lot. We go out into the world trusting and expecting to be trusted. I’m probably worse than most in dealing with people.
Yet Jesus isn’t telling us to distrust people. What did the manager do? He used his present to prepare for the future. That’s what Jesus is telling us about. We need to use what we have now to prepare for the future that is coming. Be wise. Be prepared.
2. The second point he makes is in verse 9. Relationships are your best investment. What should be the outcome of our use of money? Friends. Relationships. A welcome into an eternal dwelling.