Summary: Parable of the dishonest manager: The Kingdom of God works on different principles than we’re used to. Efficiency, practicality, and self-interest are not the core values of the Kingdom. God expects a lot more for us (and from us) than we expect him to.
There was a rich man. This man was so rich that he didn’t make his own bed. He had a personal maid who did that. He didn’t make his own dinner. He had a personal chef who did that. He didn’t drive his own car. He had a chauffeur who did that. He didn’t balance his own checkbook. He had a personal financial manager who did that. And he didn’t run the day-to-day affairs of his business himself. He had a manager who did that.
The manager was not a rich man. But he didn’t do too badly for himself. He earned a salary commensurate with his responsibilities. And, besides that, he kept two sets of books, and supplemented his salary by skimming a little off the top now and then. He didn’t take a lot—not so much that it would be easily noticed, but enough to support a lifestyle that was just a little bit beyond honest means.
At first he squirreled the ill-gotten gains away. The years went by. His boss seemed clueless, and he started to spend. Before long, the Swiss bank account was dry. Confident that his scam would continue, he spent everything he took home. Some months he spent more than he took home, but he didn’t worry about it. He could always skim a little extra the next month to make up for it.
His confidence was unfounded, however. Eventually, the boss learned of the manager’s dishonesty.
One day the rich man called the manager to his office and confronted him. “What is this I hear about you? You’re a swindler and a cheat. You’re fired!!”
The manager stood there for a few more moments, sweating bullets. Was the set of books that he prepared for the auditor up-to-date? Did he cover all the fraudulent transactions with a false paper trail long enough to hide any trace of his financial misdoings? Could anything be proven?
The rich man moved as if to press the intercom button on his phone. The manager fell back into a chair, his hands over his face. He wondered which security guards are on duty today; he knew there was at least one who would take some pleasure in escorting him off company property. It would probably be a one-way trip to the local lock-up. Just as well, really. Without his paycheck, and without the skimming, it was only a matter of time before the cupboards would be bare, the repo man would be around for his car, and the bank would claim title to his house.
But the rich man didn’t press the intercom button. Instead he picked up a pencil and circled a date on his desk calendar. “Two weeks,” he said. “You have two weeks. Continue your responsibilities.”
The manager looked up. Did he hear correctly? Two weeks? Two weeks more to check for any tell-tale traces. He could bury the evidence. No jail after all. Two weeks to come up with another plan.
The manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My boss is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig ditches. That sounds like way too much work. I’m ashamed to beg. I’m far too good for that.
“I know! I know what I’ll do! And when I lose my job, I won’t go to jail, I won’t join the unemployment line, and I won’t sit on the street corner with cup and a sign! When I lose my job, people will welcome me into their houses. It’ll be even better than before. I won’t have to skim money; I’ll just let my grateful fans give it to me!”
The manager pulled out the account book he used for show and called in each one of his boss’s debtors, one by one. And, one by one, he took from them their debt notes and replaced them with notes for 50% of the original amount. Or 80%. Or 60%. Whatever seemed good to him at the moment. Whatever he thought would be enough to gain that particular debtor’s undying gratitude.
The rich man found out what the manager was doing.
He commended him, for it really was a quite clever response to a difficult situation.
He still fired him, of course, for he was utterly dishonest. But you have to admit, he was clever too!
When I started studying this passage for this week, I pulled this parable apart. I applied my historical-critical tools. I analyzed the structure and the context. I even read what several different commentators had to say.
And the more I analyzed this parable, the more it didn’t make any sense.
Jesus’ comments at the end—about being trustworthy in little and in much…they make sense. And the basic meaning of the parable is clear enough, since Jesus provides the explanation—be wise in how you use your worldly wealth. But the parable itself—the story about the dishonest manager and his accommodating boss—doesn’t make any sense.