Summary: Jesus used the parable of the shrewd manager to give us lessons about managing the money God gives us, the value of true investments, and a warning about becoming a slave to money.
How Much Can God Trust You?
by David O. Dykes
The recent accounting scandals have shaken our economy to its roots. I read about a third grade class in which the students were telling about the jobs their parents had. One little boy shocked the class by saying, “My dad is an exotic dancer.” After class, the teacher took the boy aside and said, “Now, son, is your dad really an exotic dancer?” He said, “No ma’am, he really works for Arthur Andersen, but I was too embarrassed to say that.”
After spending the past few weeks studying the Parable of the Loving Father (sometimes called the Prodigal Son), we arrive at chapter 16 to find one of the most unusual parables Jesus ever uttered. Some Bible teachers merely skip over it or ignore it. I call it the parable of the Crooked Manager. It’s a story about an employee who “cooked the books” for his employer. He used dishonest methods to give an accounting of his company’s assets. It reads much like a deposition from the Enron or WorldCom hearings!
It’s a parable about money, which shouldn’t be surprising because of the 38 parables Jesus told, 19 of them dealt with handling possessions. Baptism is important, but there are 16 times more verses in the New Testament on handling money than are devoted to baptism. The Lord’s Supper is important, but there are 32 times more Biblical statements about Christian financial management than about the Lord’s Supper. Since Jesus had so much to say about it, we’d better pay attention. I hope you know you can trust God–but when it comes to handling God’s money, how much can he trust you? Keep your Bibles open because we will read each section of scripture as we discuss it. First, we will consider:
I. THE PARABLE: THE GOOD EXAMPLE OF A CROOK (1-8)
Let’s just read the parable beginning in Luke 16:1:
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 will 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 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.”
The “moral of the story” is found in the last sentence and it’s the key to understanding the parable. The manager was a cunning, conniving, dishonest rascal–but you can’t help but smile at how shrewd he was. When he learned he was about to lose his job (because he was dishonest and wasteful), he decided to cover his own assets. He went to the best customers and gave them deep discounts on what they owed his boss. Why? Obviously, after he was kicked out of his company for mismanagement, he would go to one of those customers who “owed him a favor” and hopefully they would remember his action and give him a job. When it came time to be fired, even his boss said, “I’ve got to hand it to you, you are cunning, devious, despicable fellow–just my kind of guy–now get out of my sight!”
That’s how business is still done. You hear expressions like, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. A tit for a tat. Hey, I owe you one!” Jesus isn’t suggesting we use dishonest business practices, but He is suggesting we can learn something from the clever way cunning people operate.
First, notice Jesus recognized there are only two kinds of people. He divides the entire human race into these two groups. Some are what He called, “people of this world” and the others are what He called “people of the light.” Which group are you in? People who do not have a personal relationship with God are “of this world.” This present world it is not all there is–there is another world. This world is temporary, and the other world is eternal. This world is physical, and the other world is spiritual. Millions of people live their lives as if this world was all there will ever be. They devote their entire lives to getting ahead in this world and accumulating all the toys that will make them feel comfortable. On the other hand, those of us who are “people of the light” have a personal relationship with the God of the Universe. The Bible says, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5) We are living in this world, but we know this world is not all there is. We will never feel totally comfortable in this world because it’s not really our home. Like Abraham, we are looking for a city not made with human hands.