I am writing this introduction before any serious study on this parable for one reason. In my four decades of Christian life, this parable has always caused me concern. I need my readers to understand I may not (most likely will not) have any hard conclusions, and that I may create more questions than answers. You see, this parable seems to imply that Jesus commends a dishonest action.
I just don’t get it.
Lets read the passage and ask for help!
1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.
Questions to Consider
Where was this parable taught?
During the last three months of the Lord’s time in Israel, much of it was spent in Perea, on the eastern side of the Jordan, and finally in Jerusalem.
Who were the audience?
This parable was directed to His disciples. The Pharisees heard the message. They were still lurking about, finding ways to be on the outskirts of the Lord’s following.
When did the Lord give this parable?
This parable was given within three months of the passion week. For a helpful document, providing a list of all the events in Jesus Life, check out the following download.
Why did the Lord give this message?
Asking the five W’s (what, why, where, when and how) when studying a passage can be very illuminating. This particular parable, intended for the disciples, speaks of a believers relation with money, or possessions.
As a matter of fact, the gospel of Luke speak often of how believers are to relate to possessions. From John the Baptist preaching about material goods (Luke 3:11-14) to our last parable about the two sons and their handling of possessions, Luke returns to this theme often. The theme of things!
Also note that the Lord had two audiences. The primary audience of course, were His disciples, and yet the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were hanging out, lurking about and spying on the One who was seeking their best.
No matter who the audience is, truth is truth. If it cuts, then the cut was necessary.
What was the message for the original audience?
Thankfully, Luke gives us the message intended for the original audience, and does not leave us to wonder of the Lord’s intent in bringing up His commendation of the dishonest manager. But maybe I am assigning blame where there is no blame to be had, for the Lord did not commend the thieving manager. The Lord provided this parable, indicating that “the rich man” was the one commending the thief. This of itself is fairly amazing, that a man who got ripped off, commends the ripper offer. But that is beside the point!
The message is that believers don’t deal with their own people as shrewdly as the men of this world! Consider verse 8
The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.
Not a common word for me. Let’s check a definition.
It is the Greek word phronimos, and can be translated as intelligent, wise or prudent. A bit more illumination from Strong’s Dictionary for those readers who are a bit more curious
φρόνιμος phrónimos, fron’-ee-mos; from G5424; thoughtful, i.e. sagacious or discreet (implying a cautious character; while G4680 denotes practical skill or acumen; and G4908 indicates rather intelligence or mental acquirement); in a bad sense conceited (also in the comparative):—wise(-r).
So what is the point Carl? Only that the comparison of believers with non-believers is not flattering for us. Is the Lord referring to the Pharisees at this time, or is He referring to His own people. and by extension to us? That isn’t clear to me. No matter, the statement stands and we need to seek understanding for our selves.
Jesus then tells His followers to make friends for yourselves by using cold hard cash, by using possessions, so that when the moolah, when the coin fails, (and He didn’t say if the penny fails!), we may be received into eternal dwellings.
Okay, now what does that mean? This eternal dwellings thing? Heaven?
I’m telling you, this is one difficult passage. Oh I know the standard teaching is that if we give to the church we will have a greater reception on the shores of heaven, more rewards don’t you know!
But is that what He is saying? Read it one more time carefully.
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
Notice that the reception is not a qualitative reception. In other words, the reception is not speaking of being better if you are more shrewd in using the unrighteous mammon. It seems to be a matter of being received at all.
Like I said above, what is He referring to when He speaks of “eternal dwellings”?
For a consideration of the term “eternal” check out my post “A Study of Eternal / Everlasting” The term dwellings, refers to either a tent or the tabernacle, upon which the temple was fashioned.
Okay, I’m going to take a stab at this, only to get conversation going.
Take the following with a grain of salt and correct me where I am falling down on this thinking, but could Jesus be communicating to His disciples the life of an apostle/itinerant preacher, of distributing possessions amongst other believers, understanding that what “comes around goes around”.
Wow – that is a leap Carl!
There is a bit of support for this, (albeit little) when the Lord sent out His disciples without cash or staff, and speaking of those who would welcome them in to their homes. Luke 9:1-6 . Luke again refers to the disciples and their relation to support amongst the people of God in Luke 10:3-9
Also, in the past, as I was studying the concept of salaried pastors, I came across a passage in the Didache, which is NOT Scripture, yet gives us some direction as to how the church understood money in relation to preachers. The blog post I am referring to is Salaried Pastors? A discussion with a Pastor 3, and you can scroll to the bottom for the quote found in chapter 11 of the Didache.
It is a wee bit shocking!
What is the message for us today?
Going from the intent of the parable for the original audience, which is difficult to say the least, to the intent for us nowadays is a problem on steroids.
Should I give money in order to get to heaven? Remember the passage speaks of giving money in order to be received into eternal habitations! This interpretation is beyond my current understanding, and smacks of being used to fill the coffers of some organizations. But you know how I feel about that, so I won’t go into some rant that wastes both our times.
I suppose I have come clean on the commendation of the Savior to be dishonest, a Savior, “who is such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens”. He did not commend the actions of the dishonest manager. The rich man did. Any story or parable that the Lord spoke does not imply that all the actions performed in the story are of the approval of the Father in heaven. That is simply ascribing too much to any parable under consideration.
Secondly, for my own understanding one thing comes through crystal clear. When it comes to a competition of possessions and people, God wants people to win! Possessions are to be used for people, not the other way around.
Quick story before I leave you today.
Our family spent a few years in northern Quebec, doing mission work, and in that time we came to hear of a term that was common to the area. “Stepping on heads”. At least that is the English translation of the Quebecois phrase.
It’s a term describing the actions of those who use people to get ahead.
Don’t step on heads!
Be a blessing to others with your possessions, sharing and providing help to others for their sake, and not your own.
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