Summary: A sermon on the parable Jesus told about dishonest manager in Luke 16:1-9 focusing on stewardship theme (First part of sermon from Eugene Peterson's book, Tell It Slant, pg. 99-105; Last part of sermon from Tom Ellsworth's book, Inverted, pg. 107-110)
Eugene Peterson- I was approaching John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore looking for a parking place. I was a preacher coming to visit a church member who had recently had surgery. The street was lined with parked cars. I circled the hospital 3 times and no parking place opened up. I remembered that I had friends who in that situation always prayed for a spot and so thought I’d give it a try. I prayed for a parking place. 20 feet ahead of me a car pulled out. I parked and locked my car. I was so pleased. Not only had I experienced a minor miracle on the streets of East Baltimore, but I also had a story that I could tell to my friends certifying me as an effective pray-er. After an hour or so with my friend in his hospital room, I took the elevator down and returned to the street, reminiscing on the good fortune of the parking place and anticipating with relish telling the story to my friends... only to realize that I had locked my keys in the car. I stood there, helpless, looking at my keys dangling from the ignition within the locked car. I was stumped, hands in my pockets, wondering what I could do. Just then a young boy, an African American about 10 years of age, came up to me and said, “Something wrong mister?” I said, “Yes. I locked my keys in my car.” He said, “I can help you.” He took a piece of wire out of his pocket and in 30 seconds or less had the door opened, reached in, and handed me my keys. I said, “I’m sure glad that I was here when you showed up.” He grinned and said, “Is it worth a dollar to you?” I reached for my wallet. “A dollar?- it’s worth 2 dollars!” and handed him the money. As I drove away, Luke 16:1-9 that has puzzled and even scandalized so many- a rascal commended for being a rascal- surfaced and came to the forefront of my mind. Wasn’t this what I had just experienced, this street wise boy of Baltimore’s inner city, at ten years of age an old pro at entering locked cars and asking for whatever he could pick up for spending money, using his skill at picking locks to stay alive in that environment, and now praised by me for employing his questionable expertise in creative survival?
WBTU: A. Jesus parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 ranks near the top of all time favorites, told and retold down through the ages. In contrast, this parable that immediately follows takes the prize for being the most ignored. It’s very unpopular.
Many have trouble with it. Jesus is commending a dishonest manager. It is certainly odd.
We don’t even need the parable to go over the stewardship principles found in vs. 10-13. However, vs. 8 and 9 that we are dealing with tonight are directly related with that parable.
Kenneth Bailey, a professor in Beirut, Lebanon, and also an expert in the customs and languages of the Middle East down through the ages, give this retelling of the parable that is useful: The manager here is a rental estate manager and the debtors are farmers who pay their rent in kind. When the manager is found to have been embezzling some of the funds that he is responsible for, he is fired on the spot. He does not protest his innocence. He is silent and makes no excuses. His silence is an admission of his guilt. He does not try to figure out a scheme to get his job back. He gives his full attention to what he will do next. But in his silence he realizes something that is the key to understanding the story: he is fired but not punished. He is not required to pay back what he has embezzled. He is not jailed. In fact, he is not even scolded. This is a master who shows unusual mercy and generosity even to a dishonest steward. The thoughtful listener/ reader of this parable should not miss this fact. So what will he do? He needs a job. He considers digging ditches and rejects that. He considers begging and rejects that. But who will hire him? His public image is in ruins. And then he comes up with a plan. But what is the plan? The manager’s plan “is to risk everything on the quality of mercy he has already experienced from his master. If he fails, he will certainly go to jail. If he succeeds, he will be a hero in the community.” In these moments his situation turns around. He enters into and experiences a world he has never before known- a world of grace. He has lived, apparently quite successfully, by his wits, by shrewd calculation. But it has been a very cramped, small world. Now he sees another and much larger way. Here is how it works. Nobody as yet knows that he has been fired. So he calls in the debtors one by one. The manager is an estate manager in charge of overseeing the rentals of land to farmers who pay in kind say at harvest time. These are well placed men in the community who have had long standing associations with the master. They assume that the manager has an important message from the master, and the manager lets them assume that. He is in a hurry- “quickly”- he has to get this over before the master knows what he is doing. If the debtors know that there is deception involved they probably won’t cooperate- that would mean breaking faith with the master and he would no longer rent land to them. The debtors assume that the bill changing is legitimate, an order from the master carried out by the manager, who (they would also assume) had talked the master into it: a bonus. The debtors are delighted with the generous bonus from the master, arranged by the manager. When the master realizes what has happened, he has two choices: He can go back to the debtors and tell them it was all a mistake, the manager was acting without his authority. That would, of course, anger the debtors, and their enthusiasm over his generosity would change into cursing over his stinginess. Or, he can say nothing, accept the praise, and let the manager, rascal though he is, enjoy his popularity. He thinks it over. He is, after all, a generous man- he didn’t throw the manager in jail. You see, the manager “knew the master was generous and merciful. He gambled everything on this aspect of his master’s nature. He won. Because the master was indeed generous and merciful, he chose to pay the full price for his manager’s salvation.”