2017-07-09 – Luke 16:1-9– Parables of Jesus – The Shrewd Manager
The Parable of the Dishonest Manager
16 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. 2 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.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position 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 dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
2017-07-09 – Luke 16:1-9– Parables of Jesus – The Shrewd Manager
Good morning everyone. I am so pleased that you chose to spend the morning with us here today..
We are continuing in the sermon series on The Parables of Jesus. This is the third of three parables which speak about the use of finances and possessions. The first was the rich fool. The second we went over last week was about the rich man and Lazarus, where Jesus gave us some invaluable life lessons about the traps of material wealth and the implications on our eternity. We are surrounded by many who, like the rich man, either don’t believe or realize that there is life after this life. Our job is to share our spiritual riches (the Gospel) with them and the world.
In this last parable today about wealth, we are going to see examples about financial mismanagement and shrewd leadership.
Please turn in your Bibles to Luke 16:1-9, Page 79 of the New Testament, which is the Inspired, Infallible and Living Word of God. Let us Pray…
Tom Watson Jr. was the CEO of IBM between 1956-1971. He was a key figure in the information revolution we know and enjoy of today. Watson repeatedly demonstrated his abilities as a leader. Once a young executive of his at IBM made some bad decisions that cost the company several million dollars. He was summoned to Watson’s office, fully expecting to be dismissed. As he entered the office, the young executive said, “I suppose after that set of mistakes you will want to fire me.” Watson replied, “Not at all, young man, we have just spent a couple of million dollars educating you.”
This story provides a strong message that some of the most powerful lessons we can learn, are from our so-called failures or difficult times.
You might remember also one of Thomas Edison’s famous saying as he was trying to find a solution for making the light bulb, he said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
In our parable today Jesus told the story of a steward or business manager for a wealthy landowner, who is fired by his rich boss after his dishonesty is discovered. The steward then acts in his own best interests by further defrauding his boss. When the boss finds out about this, surprisingly he commends the steward. At first glance, this parable seems to be teaching that Jesus might be condoning, even praising, the sinful behavior of the steward—which is certainly a bit awkward, but I will challenge that assumption.
There are a wide variety of interpretations of the meaning of this parable. It deals with the proper use of money; ethical conduct while on the job; debt management and trust, just to name a few.
Let’s begin with the first verse of the parable, which introduces the two main characters and sets the stage for what is to come.
There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.
As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that the rich man was someone who owned a substantial amount of land, which he rented out to others to use for agricultural purposes, and he had a manager who was responsible to take care of his business. Someone had come to the rich landowner and told him that his manager was wasting the owner’s assets.
2 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.’
The rich man lets the manager know that others have told him of his mismanagement—presumably, that he has been taking advantage of his position and lining his own pockets at the owner’s expense.
It was common then, and it is common in our world today that large property owners had Managers. Managers conducted business in the name of the property owners. Any contracts entered into by the manager in the name of the owner were legally binding for the owner. Before appointing someone as the manager of their business, household, and financial affairs, the owner would have to completely trust the person. Apparently the rich man had placed this level of trust in his manager, only to have that trust betrayed. While the rich man explicitly trusted the manager and therefore didn’t realize he was being taken advantage of, others in the community let the owner know what the manager was doing.
Back when my family and I lived in Kansas, dear friends of ours, Rod and Rita Gartner, managed a large farming business. They are also a wonderful Christians from our Kansas church home, and they became very close friends of ours. Rod once gave us a tour of the farm he managed, and he was so proud of the operations there. The owner gave complete trust to the manager, my buddy Rod, and I am sure it is indicative of what we have here in this parable.
In our verse here, when confronted by the owner, notice the manager says nothing. He doesn’t defend himself, he doesn’t ask who his accusers are, and he doesn’t even deny it. His silence is taken as an admission of his guilt. So the owner fires him on the spot and instructs him to turn over the financial accounting books. From that point on the man is no longer the manager and no longer has any legal authority to do business for the owner’s accord.
In the next two verses we hear the inner thoughts of the manager as he assesses his future employability while in the process of gathering up the finance books.
3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.
His assessment of his future is bleak. Ironically if he had been the rich man’s slave, he wouldn’t be asking himself what he should do, as that decision would be up to the owner, and he would probably be given some menial work. But since he’s not a slave, his dismissal probably means that very soon everyone in the village is going to know he was fired from his former job. He believes he is not strong enough to work in the fields as an agricultural worker or day laborer, and he admits he’s too ashamed to beg.
Bad position to be in for sure. Ever been there? Where you were fired from a job and your spirits are so low you don’t know what to do. It doesn’t feel good being let-go does it. Now the right thing to do would be to swallow your pride and pull yourself up by the bootstraps and start over. Rebuild your pride and the communities opinion through honest work over time. But that’s not what folks sometimes are willing to do. It is sad to see folks when they get themselves in trouble, that they continue to dig themselves an even deeper hole that they cannot dig out of. That is what happens for our fired manager here. His prospects don’t seem good, so he decides to gamble with what little clout he has left. In this next verse we hear his next inner thought.
4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’
He has a plan. He’s going to do something that will cause others to receive him into their homes. To receive him “into their homes” means getting another job from another landowner, despite the fact that people know he was dishonest and was fired from his last position. He then begins to put his plan into action.
5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’
So the manager summons the master’s debtors individually. This act informs the listener that at this point the only people who know the manager has been fired are the owner and the manager himself. Apparently the landowner’s servants didn’t even know, as the manager most likely has ordered some of them to go to the master’s debtors to summon them. If they knew he was no longer the manager, they wouldn’t have followed his orders. The debtors didn’t know either, as if they did, they probably wouldn’t have answered his summons and come to a private meeting with him.
These debtors were not poor men; they were renting large tracts of the rich man’s land. One rented an olive orchard and another a wheat field.
In those days people would rent and work farmland, orchards, and vineyards, and would pay the owner an agreed-upon portion of the crop. Therefore the owner didn’t have to work the land, but would receive some of the produce of the land. One of these men had agreed to give the owner a hundred measures of olive oil from the harvest, another a hundred measures of wheat.
A measure of oil, from the Hebrew word bath, is approximately 39 liters, so one of the debtors had pledged to pay about 3,900 liters, or about 850 gallons of olive oil, which would be the produce of about 150 olive trees and have a value of about 1,000 denarii. One denarius was the equivalent of one day’s wage for an unskilled laborer. The other debtor had pledged to pay the master the equivalent of 27 tons of wheat from the 100 acres harvested. So the value of the wheat owed was about 2,500 denarii.
The unjust steward lowered the amount of oil owed by 50 percent, or 500 denarii. He lowered the wheat owed by 20 percent, also 500 denarii. So he instructed each of them to rewrite their bill so that it reflected 500 denarii less than was originally owed, which was a significant amount of money.
After having cheated the owner for his own financial advantage, he then cheated him again to the tune of 1,000 denarii, only this time not for his financial advantage but so that these men would think well of him and possibly give him a job once they learned that he had been fired.
Thinking that the manager was doing the will of the owner, the debtors went away happy that the landowner had been so generous, and happy with the manager, who they may credit for being the one who convinced the owner to extend such a generous gesture. So the manager took advantage of the last few moments he had available to him on the job to set himself up at the owners expense.
I have seen a few people get fired from the corporate world over the years. An interesting thing is, in the corporate world, when HR finally gets around to making such a decision, the person getting fired is immediately escorted out of the building. They aren’t given the opportunity to even shut down their computer, whereby minimizing the risk that they would maybe hurt the company’s reputation or make some inappropriate deal as they were preparing to leave.
In our parable here, the manager has painted the owner into a corner. Once the owner finds out that the manager has changed the amount owed him, he has the legal right to not honor the discounted figure, but rather to demand the full amount be paid at the time of harvest. The manager was no longer working for him and had no legal authority to make such a reduction.
However, if he revoked the amended bills, he would lose all of the good will he had just gained with his renters. And as the other members of the village heard about it, which they undoubtedly would, he would also lose their good will. The manager was once again stealing from the owner, yet in his shrewdness doing so in a way that worked to his advantage and maybe even benefited the owner, in the long run. The story ends with the following:
8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;
It’s clearly stated here that the manager is dishonest, so there is no inference that he is being commended for being good or righteous or repentant. Ironically the manager is commended by the master for his shrewdness; in other words, his cleverness and craftiness in dealing with people.
His actions made him look good in the eyes of the renters. The community would also most likely hear that the owner was incredibly generous. The story of what the manager did would probably eventually leak out and members of the community would smile as they thought about his audacious plan and how cleverly he had enacted it. They would also realize that the owner could have originally punished him and sold his family, but that he didn’t. While it’s unlikely that he would get hired locally as a manager because of his dishonesty, he might very well get hired for some other job because of his cleverness, which was his goal. His plan was a “win” for him and a “win” for the owner in some regard as well. One author explained it like this:
The manager who arranges things for himself dishonestly is so clever, so wise, that the rich man, the owner of the estate, cannot help but be amazed. One can only imagine what he might do. He might slap his knee and say: “That scoundrel! I fired him just a couple of days ago for mismanagement. But now look. He has feathered his nest among my debtors. And he has used what belongs to me to do it. What gall! But how clever! He’s a rascal, but a remarkably clever one!”
This parable probably brought a smile to the original listeners, like a movie or book about a thief whose plan is extremely clever, intricate, and imaginative does to many viewers or readers nowadays. But they would have also gotten the point that the owner was generous and kind. Instead of making the manager pay the price of his wrongdoings through legal punishment, the owner mercifully saved the manager and his family.
When the story itself is finished, Jesus says something further by way of application:
for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
In this difficult-to-understand statement, Jesus makes a comparison between the sons of this world and the sons of light. The sons of the world, like the manager, know how to wisely work within the world’s system. They know how to make good deals, to make money, to gain wealth, to be successful in accordance with the ways and principles of the world. They use the world’s material wealth to prepare for their earthly future. Jesus suggests a different way to operate. He tells the sons of light to wisely work according to a different set of principles, the principles of the kingdom of God, based on the loving, generous, and merciful nature of God. The sons of light are to use the ways of the kingdom by operating in accordance with God’s will and acting in love and generosity toward others to become rich toward God, to lay up treasures in heaven.
Believers are told to use the money and wealth of this world—called mammon of unrighteousness in some translations, worldly wealth in others—to make friends in this world. In other words, do good things with your money, be generous, share, give to those in need, help those you can. The time will come when money will no longer have any value or importance, and that time will come when you pass on from this world and enter the next world. If you live according to the principles of God’s kingdom, when you arrive in heaven you will be welcomed into your eternal dwellings by those you have helped and who have passed on before you.
In this parable, Jesus is once again showing the nature of God, who, like the landowner, is merciful and generous. He points out that believers, disciples, should learn something from the unjust steward. While what the unjust steward did was clearly wrong, he at least understood the nature of the owner and acted on that knowledge. How much more should we, as believers, understand the loving and generous nature of God, and with that understanding live our lives with great faith in His love, mercy, and generosity. And at the same time emulate His attributes by being generous and forgiving with others.
God wants us to be shrewd Christian disciples. I found two quotes from the bible about being shrewd:
Psalm 18:26 “to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.
Matthew 10:16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
Shrewd is good when used in its proper context. The owner enjoyed the managers shrewd prowess. Perhaps if he had displayed these traits more in his regular business practices, he would have maintained his job in the first place.
So I have a couple takeaways for you as we close.
First, with the understanding that as we all need money to make ends meet, to take care of ourselves and our families, but how we make our money is even more important than how much we make. God wants to bless you, but if you are not using your resources in a way that honors God in the process, then he may not entrust you with more. Christian integrity and honor should always be in the forefront of your jobs and your character, especially when nobody is looking. Because you know what? We can’t hide from God. He sees all and He knows all. And He loves you, no matter what.
Secondly: This parable shows the traits of an uncommon leader. Leaders who look at failure differently. At the start I gave an example of Thomas Edison, a man that I admire much. Even when his factory was burned down, with much of his life’s work inside, Edison said: “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”
A true characteristic of leadership is to see things differently. Seeing mistakes as an investment in learning and experience. Seeing that, even in disaster, you can say like Edison did “Thank God we can start anew.”
[Alter Call & Prayer] – Please Stand..