12. "A Shrewd Man of the World"

(The parable is also known as The Parable of the Unjust Steward and The Parable of the The Shrewd Manager.)


Luke 16:1–9

As we study this week’s parable, we find perhaps the most difficult parable to interpret in Luke’s Gospel, or even in all of Jesus’ teaching. Remember that a parable illustrates one central point. We must not press the details for theological content.
We are introduced to a “rich man” (16:1a), the owner of the possessions in question throughout the story. Some see this figure as God, but we'll soon hear him commend his dishonest manager’s shrewdness, a difficult action to imagine from our holy Lord. Others see the “rich man” as money itself.
Jesus’ point is not what the master does but what the master’s servant chooses to do. The simple teaching of the story’s plot is that we should be shrewd with what is given to us to manage.





A Shrewd Man of the World — Luke 16:1–9

Managing or Squandering Our Possessions

shrewd [adjective] having or showing sharp powers of judgment; astute

Verses 1–2 [Click to open/close each link to Scripture.] Jesus told his disciples, “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2So 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.'

 

What Jesus does in this story is clearly lay out our rightful place in the universe and God’s rightful place in our lives. He's the owner and we — at our best — are squandering managers. God gives us our time on earth and we squander the majority of it on self-interest. He gives us our talents and we squander the majority of them on greed. He gives us resources and we — like the rich fool in Chapter 12 that Lee presented to us last week — squander the majority of them on personal comfort and status symbols. While we get ahead, others get left behind and that, to God, is squandering His resources.


God sends us wake-up calls all the time; when will we quit hitting the snooze button?


Verses 3 –7 [Click to open/close each link to Scripture.] “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 — 4I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
5"So he called in each of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
6"'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied.
"The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.'
7"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.'.

 

Here we see the shrewd man (take another look at the definition above) who hears the Master’s wake-up call. It goes against our grain that Christ would use such a scheming man as an example of kingdom living, but let’s look at exactly what he did. “He summoned each one of his master’s debtors.”

So who are our Master’s debtors? Sinners like us? Squanderers like us? This man is shrewd; but he gets it! He quits hitting the snooze button and leaps out of his stupor. He runs from associate to associate and offers them freedom from the Master’s debt. It's not his own debt he's forgiving — for he owns nothing — he has no reserve. However, he's crafty enough to realize that if he doesn't get it he will be out on the street begging or shoveling dirt.

We're likely in the same situation; that’s what we need to wake up to. If we don’t start offering forgiveness of our Master’s debt, we're also going to wind up in the place of shame.

Notice what the shrewd man does; he first runs to the ones who owe the most money; the biggest debt. The more they owe, the more he forgives them! Who has squandered the incredible gifts that God has offered them? If we're to be like this man, we'll run to the worst sinners and forgive them the most; that’s the point of the story of the shrewd manager. The more you forgive; the wiser you are.


Verses 8–9 [Click to open/close each link to Scripture.] “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

 

Is Jesus praising the unrighteous man for his shrewdness? And what does Jesus mean by, “the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light”? All of this is very confusing; and to whatever degree it is strange to us, imagine how confused the disciples must have felt.

While we might condemn the worldly behavior of the manager, Jesus praises him because “he gets it.” Grasping his mistake, he uses every means available to forgive the debts of others. Rather than wait dismally for justice to crash down upon him, rather than beg the Master for mercy, he does something that even the demanding Master had to admire; he uses what is at his disposal to create friendships in preparation of the time when his Master would call in his accounts.

This man understands basic business. This parable depicts a symbolism that debt-ridden people could understand. Most of our Lord’s followers would deeply identify with the concept of stewardship and not ownership. They'd understood what it meant to be unable to pay back a debt and to be left penniless or even enslaved because of debt.

I believe that the lesson of the parable is clear: Invest in the future by the wise use of present possessions (Luke 16:9).




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