Summary: Jesus uses the example of a bad man to teach us important principles about managing our money.
Jesus Speaks on Money Management
Money management. This is something we must learn early in life. My son was once working on a merit badge for Scouts that in part required him to keep a three-month budget. He had to record all his income as well as his expenses. At the end of the month, he had to total both up to see how he faired. Of course, he should be able to look in his wallet and see how he did. If his wallet is empty or if he has borrowed some money from a friend, his sister or me then he knows he has exceeded his budget.
My daughter once took Financial Management in school. I recall the time when they were working on checkbooks. Each student had to draw slips of paper to see what their weekly income would be. Hers was around $160. I told her she better hope she makes more than that in real life because $160 a week would not take her very far. She informed me that she was already in debt because of some expenses she had incurred.
I recall one of the episodes on Sister Sister-a show that my daughter once enjoyed watching. One of the sisters was a good steward of her money but the other wasn’t. She opened her first checking account, got her balance on the first statement and could not understand why she was overdrawn when she still had checks left.
I suppose all of us wish that we could be better stewards of our money. We can look back on decisions we have made that we wish we had not made. The financial wisdom that comes with age sometimes escapes us during our younger years.
This parable is no doubt one of Jesus’ most perplexing and is probably the most difficult to interpret. It is strange that we hear the master commending his servant for his dishonesty and prudence (being wisely cautious.) It is important that we understand that the Pharisees were in the background of this story. They were lovers of money. Many are like them today. Money is not the problem, but the love of it is what gets us in trouble.
In the interpretation of this parable, we must be careful not to press the meaning of each element but rather focus on the main lesson Jesus was trying to teach. The master in the story is not a picture of Christ, so therefore Jesus is not commending dishonesty.
The main character in the story is the steward or we might better understand the word manager. He is in charge of the rich man’s estate. He has complete and absolute authority. In a sense he would represent any follower of Jesus Christ. It was reported to the rich man that this manager was being dishonest. Upon learning of this situation, the rich man called him in to give an account of himself and his handling of the estate.
The manager knew he was in trouble. If dishonesty could be proven he would lose his position. He was ashamed and too proud to beg and not strong enough to dig ditches. So he came up with a plan. Thus the name, the parable of the shrewd manager.
His plan was to falsify the amounts that the rich man’s debtors owed him. By doing this, he would gain favor from those people. After all, if you owed someone $1,000 and they came along and said, “Well, just pay me $100,” wouldn’t you be happy? You might even be willing to do most anything for that person. The reason the manager did this was so he would have some place to go when his employer fired him. These folks who he had helped out would show him hospitality. At least, that was his plan.
When his employer found out what he had done, he commended him. He wasn’t pleased with his dishonesty, but his planning amazed him. As we look at the story, we find that all the players were actually dishonest. The manager was dishonest. The debtors were dishonest by agreeing to the plan of the manager. The master was dishonest by commending the manager for his shrewdness. So Jesus is really telling us to imitate the good qualities of a bad man. The advice is good in our secular lives but also as it relates to our use of money and resources in our work for God.
BE PRUDENT OR CAUTIOUS IN MANAGING YOUR MONEY
According to Webster’s dictionary, prudent means to be capable of exercising sound judgment in practical matters, especially as it concerns one’s own interests. The manager did this very thing. He went to those who owed the rich man money and changed the records.
He went to the first person and asked him how much he owed the rich man. He replied 800 gallons of olive oil. So the manager told him to tear up that bill and write another one for 400 gallons.