Summary: If we are offered grace, it is a sin to not offer it to others
As you might have noticed, we have been hearing a lot of parables from Luke in the last few months; this is Year C in the revised common lectionary. . . the year of Luke. And Luke seemed to concentrate on Jesus and his parables as teaching tools for his disciples and anyone who interacted with Him. Jesus used parables to convey a moral truth, a lesson for the hearer on how to live their lives. We started out with some gentle parables (the Parable of the Sower of seeds in Luke 8, and the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10) and have progressed to today’s Parable of the Unjust Steward that has a lot more substance. I often wonder if the tone of the parables become more complicated because Jesus is tired of having to answer the same questions all the time.
In today’s gospel, we just heard:
Then Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' (Luke 16:1-2)
The manager’s gig was up – he had been caught stealing from the rich man. He was being rightfully fired for cause: theft. Yet, a few lines later we hear this:
And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly (Luke 16: 8)
Did we just hear that the rich man commended the manager who had ‘cooked the books’ and cheated him?
You have got to be kidding!!
That doesn’t make sense! If someone cheated you, would YOU praise their shrewdness? I don’t think so!
Of all the parables in Luke, this is probably one of the most difficult parables to try to understand and, certainly, to explain to you. Most preachers try to stay as far away as possible from preaching on this. But here I go.
It’s an interesting story; here’s a con artist, caught cheating his master, shown to be guilty by his silence (he says absolutely nothing when he is accused by the rich man and summarily fired). Yet he ends up being commended for his smart thinking. At first, we might think Jesus is condoning the theft by the manager. In fact, Jesus says
for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. (Luke 16:8)
in other words, the dishonest manager was more shrewd than Jesus’ own followers. This man, doing his evil deeds, was far more dedicated to his self-preservation than Jesus’ disciples were in spreading the good news of the gospel.
So what’s the point of the story?
In my opinion, the point of the story is that it is NOT OK to be a con artist, even if you get away with it in the end. Nor does it teach us to manipulate events for our own benefit, as it seems to. As much as that may have been the dishonest manager’s method, Jesus isn’t suggesting that it’s OK for us to manipulate or cheat, even if it is appears to be in the service of God’s kingdom.
The people who use this parable to justify underhanded or dishonest methods are simply misrepresenting it for their own purposes.
The end NEVER justifies the means.
Let me repeat that:
The end NEVER, NEVER, NEVER justifies the means.
If the parable is not about justifying dishonest behavior and the end justifying the means, what is the deeper meaning of the parable?
What the parable is also about is money, the power it brings, and how to use it in our lives. It’s about understanding that there can honest and dishonest uses of money and power.
Even in Jesus’ day there was this idea that money was an evil thing; some people thought if you got involved with money you would be tainted, would have committed a serious, maybe, mortal sin. In Matthew 19:24, Jesus himself said
it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
But he didn’t say it was impossible. Just having riches doesn’t preclude you from salvation. What matters in the end is how wisely you use money and the power it brings. In other words, don’t be put off by the thought that there’s something wrong with wealth, as though wealth is a hindrance to entering God’s kingdom. Rather, make sure that what wealth you have is used for godly purposes. Make sure that your use of your wealth results in your making friends that will last for an eternity, that is, children of the Kingdom of God. God is about relationships and interactions with others.