Summary: Each of us has to serve somebody. Jesus in Luke 16 gives us some real incentive to make the Lord God our only God.
Does Jesus ever say things that seem confusing or even contradictory? "Eat my flesh" Jesus said in John 6. Did that mean cannibalism? "Do these words offend you?" Jesus said. They heard words on the surface but didn’t realize what they meant in terms of Jesus giving His body as a sacrifice and then us becoming a part of it.
Luke 16 is one of those places. We don’t understand Jesus at first because we are looking at things from inside a swimming pool called the world. Our perspective is different. We don’t have an accurate idea of what is true or not. That’s why we study His Word and ask Him to enlighten us to His perspective.
This is one of the strangest parables Jesus taught. On the surface it appears that He is actually affirming the acts of an embezzler. That’s not the case actually so let’s take a look.
The manager described here would have had tremendous authority, even the ability to write contracts in his master’s name. Likely he was an estate manager of some kind.
So this guy is found out, but the boss gives him some time so he can give an accounting. During the interim the guy figures out a way to put his master’s customers in debt to him because he won’t do honest work.
There are two schools of thought about what he did. Either he was adding on interest to the debts that he erased - not hurting the master. The master’s reputation would have been helped and thus the master commended the shrewd manager.
Or, and more likely, he was shorting his master, but there wasn’t anything the master could do - it was legally binding. And social custom would require the debtors to show kindness to the dishonest manager. So why would the master commend the manager rather than throw him in jail? The master is simply commending the shrewdness and far-sightedness of the manager - like admiring the perfect crime.
So why would Jesus tell a positive story about a crook? As in many of the parables, we don’t want to make the story’s details the focus, but the lesson of the parable, which Jesus gives in verses 8 and 9.
One scholar suggests that Jesus is saying that we should use "worldly" things such as money to help those who are less fortunate, that when we get to heaven, those that we have helped will "welcome" us into heaven because by it they were touched and turned to God. An example of that might be the funds given to feed the orphans in Kenya, or to help in the famine. It was "unrighteous wealth" we used. Money can’t buy righteousness. But it can help people in need.
The dishonest manager used the principal of reciprocity-the debtors would owe him for lowering their debt to the master. In the same way as we help those around us in practical, even "worldly" ways-like food and shelter, there is a feeling that is created that can help bring people into God’s kingdom. So it’s a principal that Jesus is promoting - and it also fits in with the overall theme: how to use or abuse money.
Verses 10 - 13
So here Jesus expounds on the real lesson: how you handle money and responsibility here on earth gives a clue as to your integrity and ability to handle really important things, like the souls of men and performing duties for God.
And then lest we fall into the trap that many fall into-Jesus makes it plain: you can’t serve God and money. I think this suggests to us that for some, money or riches, or the seeking of riches, can actually become a god. In that case money is a form of idolatry, for anything that stands in front of God in your life is an idol.
Today there is a resurgence of the "Health, Wealth, and Prosperity" gospel-now known as the "abundant life" gospel after John 10:10. But at its core is a desire to have things more than a desire to have God.
Jesus said in Luke 11:13 that the gift God bestows on us is the Holy Spirit. Getting more of God is the key to abundant life, not getting more things. Also, being free from the dependence on things frees us up to do things that God wants us to do.
Now I’m not saying to sell all your possessions, unless God tells you to. We should work and provide for our families. You need to seek God on whether you use your things or whether your things use you.
The Pharisees needed a bit of that soul searching:
Verses 14 - 15
We are all pretty much good self-justifiers of our actions. The health-wealth and prosperity gospel also justifies itself, even using Bible verses out of context. But blessed is the person who honestly lets God search their hearts and motives.