13. The Shrewd Steward

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 13. The Shrewd Steward

Luke 16:1-8: Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’  “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels  of wheat,’ he replied. He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

Comment: This is an unusual passage in that, first of all, it is a strange story with questionable ethics and, second, it is followed by as much teaching and application, almost as long as the parable itself. The context is difficult to understand until we remember that before the previous three parables about lost things, we saw that it was the Pharisees who questioned about Jesus meeting with ‘sinners’. We will see at the end of this present teaching, in verse 13 a challenge about allegiance – money or God – and that is followed by, “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” (v.14,15) It thus becomes a parable and teaching that is directed at these men who purported to be religious but in fact were worldly in their materialistic outlook.

Content:

  • the manager of a rich man’s property is called to account for dubious dealings
  • because his job is under threat he wonders what to do.
  • he fears being jobless and homeless and wonders how to win friends.
  • he gets each of his master’s debtors and reduced their debts.
  • The master commended him for acting shrewdly

Applications: The teaching that now follows is a combination of lessons and principles that come out of the parable with two challenges interweaved within it.

Lesson: For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. That was shown in the parable – or at least ‘the man of the world’, the manager, and so Jesus says he was wiser in his worldly dealings than many religious people are.

Application/Challenge: I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The implication is use your worldly wealth for long-term kingdom purposes, don’t just sit on it.

Principle:  Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. This is the real ethical point here, how you administer what you have in small ways, will show how you can be trusted (or not) in big ways.

Application/Challenge:  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? These things have very practical outworkings and there is a link between your material world and your spiritual world – how you use your money is an indicator of how you are likely to be in your spiritual world.

Principle:  No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”   This is the real punchline – the truth is your heart will go with that which is more important to you and what is more important will be revealed by how much time and energy you give to God or to money; you can’t give your heart to both.

Summary: The parable reveals a shrewd manager – not necessarily to be copied in actually what he does – who is praised for taking worldly steps to provide for his future when he has messed up in his job. He is an example of the wisdom of the world. Having said that, the teaching goes on to challenge how believers use their material wealth or possessions and we are challenged to use it, not just to get more or sustain us in daily living, but in extending the kingdom. That, for those who have it, perhaps requires a lot more thinking. The final challenge is to see where your heart is. We live in a material world and therefore have to deal with material things, but the most important issue is what captures our hearts – materialism or God? In the West we live in the most affluent time in history. Moses warned Israel (Deut 8:7-14) once they entered the Promised Land and became prosperous, not to forget the Lord and (implied) rely upon their new prosperity. It is a warning that is particularly applicable to many of us in the West today. May we heed it.

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