Summary: Does "accidental" repentance "count?"
The Parable of the Shred Manager (Luke 16:1-9)
1There was once a rich man who had a manager. He got reports that the manager had been taking advantage of his position by running up huge personal expenses.
2So he called him in and said, “What’s this I hear about you? You’re fired. And I want a complete audit of your books.”
3The manager said to himself, “What am I going to do? I’ve lost my job as a manager, I’m not strong enough for a laboring job, and I’m too proud to beg.
4Ah, I’ve got a plan. Here’s what I’ll do... then when I’m turned out into the street, people will take me into their houses.”
5Then he went at it. One after another, he called in the people who were in his debt to his master. He said to the first, “How much do you owe my master?”
6He replied, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” The manager said, “Here, take your bill, sit down here—quick now—and write fifty.”
7To the next he said, “And you, what do you owe?” He answered, “A hundred sacks of wheat.” (The manager) said, “Take your bill, and write in eighty.” (Luke 16:1-7 The Message)
This is a story about a bill collector who works in the accounting division of a wealthy man’s estate. The bill collector (a.k.a. “manager”) has been pulling a scam—hustling his boss’ clients by overcharging them and keeping the difference.
When he finds out that he’s being audited, he scrambles to those clients and offers to “fix” their bills. The clients think that they’re cheating he boss; and they never catch on that they’ve been cheated! This bill collector is brilliant!
When the audit is finished (and everything appears to be in order), his boss shakes his head and sighs: “I don’t know what you were doing, but I know it was shifty. Well, you got away with it. Congratulations, you’re still fired!”
8The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. (Then Jesus said,) “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. (Luke 16:8-9 NIV)
What does shrewd mean?
Here’s how I’d describe it: Shrewdness is wisdom; wisdom that ran away from home as a child and learned how to survive on the Los Angeles streets. Shrewdness is cunning.
The word shrewd makes me think of a poker player who is so good at the game that there’s almost no element of “gambling” involved. He knows all the statistical angles, and he is able to “read” the other players to perfection. A shrewd poker doesn’t have to cheat to win; in fact, he can probably win even when everybody else is cheating!
After telling the story about the shrewd manager, Jesus said (basically): “If you want to see shrewd, you’re probably going to have to look outside the community of God’s people.”
After all, God’s people are uncertain about shrewdness—it’s like we don’t want to upset God by seeming too smart.
Honestly, I don’t think we need to worry about embarrassing God by outsmarting Him. I don’t think He’s intimidated by our wisdom; I’m quite certain that He’s infuriated by our foolishness:
80% of America’s local churches are not growing. The number of people worshipping God in their services is (at best) level or (at worst) lower from year to year.
19% of America’s local churches are growing in ways that aren’t working. They seem to be growing, but they’re actually just winning a game of “musical chairs” with other local churches.
Only 1% of America’s local churches are growing in a way that works. To put it simply, these churches are increasing because they are attracting lost people into God’s Family.
In other words: 99% of the local churches in the United States are not working! This is not new—these statistics have been checked and rechecked; they’ve been validated by every major denomination in the States. I can imagine God in Heaven looking at His Church in America saying: “Something isn’t adding up. I think we need an audit.”
In one way, the top-level leaders of the American Church (Catholic and Protestant) are like the manager in Jesus’ parable: they’re being dishonest—with themselves. But in another way, however, the top-level leaders in the American Church are not like the manager in Jesus’ parable: they’re not panicking!
When the manager in Jesus’ parable heard that he was going to be audited, he panicked. He got shrewd—he made radical changes to survive. The top-level leaders of the American Church are not panicking. They’re not being shrewd. They don’t understand that their “books” don’t line up with God’s Big Book:
- They’ve got funds in the bank, and
- They’ve got fabulous buildings, but