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This is the parable of the dishonest manager, about to sacked for squandering his master's property. (We don't know if used the property for personal gain, or made bad investments, or what have you.) The manager secures his future by slashing the bills of his master's debtors. As the old joke goes, he made friends in low places.

Jesus says: "Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth [mammon] so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes."

The story is clearly rich in irony: the bad manager saves himself by becoming an even worse manager. But does Jesus's conclusion rise (or perhaps sink) to the level of sarcasm? In other words, how am I to understand what Jesus is saying specifically about mammon?

Update (previously posted outside the question as fodder):

In long form, here are some of the readings and questions that it would be helpful to have clarified by an interpretation aligned with doctrine:

Taken as straight sarcasm (an oxymoron): "Go ahead, use money to make friends, and when it's gone and you're gone, then you'll know who your friends are. No doubt they too have a mansion of many rooms, and you can take the guest house by the pool."

Taken straight (albeit also with irony): There is a use even for money, and how you use it can, guess what, buy your way into heaven. (Obviously there is no quid pro quo, so it's not as crude as that.)

This is a different policy from "render unto Caesar," and is closer to the rich man who followed all the commandments but could not give away his wealth (any more than the camel could squeeze through the needle's eye). That is, there is a direct call to dispose of wealth, but how does making friends enter into it?

The policy position is laid out in the rest of the passage: you can't serve God and mammon, you must love one and despise the other. But you must be "faithful" with mammon, that is, trustworthy with it.

What does it mean in this context to be faithful with mammon, a very little thing? Jesus doesn't seem to be talking about tithes or donations to good causes or avoidance of greed (cf Luke 12). Nor is he talking about money management per se, putting coins in a bank to learn deferred gratification. In particular, the dishonest manager was praised for acting shrewdly, "for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light."

If this shrewdness is just a kind of carnal wisdom, a sophia of mammon, can we take this praise at face value? If the master who praises the manager is the Lord, as usual in these parables, then perhaps it just means that you have to cut the children of darkness some slack. But it's a backhanded sort of praise at best; Jesus is telling his disciples, But don't you children of light go acting that way. What is this shrewdness? Knowing whom to buy off? How big a discount to give? Maybe that's why the children of light must go whole-hog and give it all away. Otherwise, they'd just get taken.

Even in this view, I'm not sure which of the first two conjectures is more stable: that his crack about the proper use of mammon to buy friends and influence or at least grease the pearly gates is sarcasm of a high sort, or that his crack about the proper use of mammon reveals the deep irony in pursuing Christian ideals when dealing with our own generation.

Note: @AffableGeek's link to a broader bounty question is fruitful. A recent comment suggests plainly that Jesus is being sarcastic; there are interesting suggestions that the discounts dispensed by the manager represent his own cut, i.e., what he was skimming from the accounts, so that maybe he had learned to sacrifice money for more enduring relationships; there are suggestions that Jesus does mean for the children of light to learn from the worldly; and also a suggestion that the text is corrupt.

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Welcome to the site. When you get a chance I'd recommend reading this post. This site doesn't exist to debate right or wrong, or defend the actions or conclusions of Jesus. It's here to explain what Christianity teaches, not whether or no what it teaches is valid. –  David Stratton Jun 18 '13 at 12:03
    
possible duplicate of What is "The Parable of the Shrewd Manager" about? –  Affable Geek Jun 18 '13 at 13:41
    
@AffableGeek Thanks, I searched for the passage citation but that result was not returned. –  som-snytt Jun 18 '13 at 16:24
    
@DavidStratton This is clearly an exegetical question and does not fall under the categories you describe. –  som-snytt Jun 18 '13 at 16:27
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2 Answers 2

Your question is based on a misunderstanding. Rather than addressing the base question, I'm going to address the misunderstanding on which the question is based. Once the misunderstanding is cleared up, the question itself becomes moot.

Before doing so, I'd like to remind you that this site isn't about what we believe, but rather what Christianity teaches. We're not here to convince you that any particular part of Christianity, or Christianity as a whole is true, we're here to ask about and teach what Christianity teaches, separate from personal opinions on Truthfulness.


The Parable of talents is not generally understood to be about money. Parables are not meant to be literal. They are stories that teach a lesson, and they are often figurative.

From Wikipedia (Not my favorite source, but it'll do here).

Jesus' parables are seemingly simple and memorable stories, often with imagery, and all convey messages. Scholars have commented that although these parables seem simple, the messages they convey are deep, and central to the teachings of Jesus. Christian authors view them not as mere similitudes which serve the purpose of illustration, but as internal analogies where nature becomes a witness for the spiritual world.

So the question becomes, what is the analogy being taught here. Most Christian teachings agree that the message is simple: Those who show that they are responsible are trusted with more responsibility.

Example from https://bible.org/seriespage/parable-talents-matthew-2514-30-luke-1912-28:

We should carefully note the outcome of faithful service, and of unfaithful service, in this parable. Faithful service led to increased responsibilities in the kingdom of heaven, and eternal joy in the presence of the Master, Jesus Christ. Unfaithful service led to condemnation, the removal of one’s stewardship, and an eternity of weeping and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness, away from the presence of our Lord.

One must surely conclude that this parable is not just an interesting story, but a message of eternal significance. Let us listen carefully then, looking to God’s Spirit to enlighten our hearts and minds, and to empower our service, to the glory of God and our eternal good.

This parable isn't about materialism. It's not about money. It's about that one undeniably true lesson - that responsibility is something that is given to those who can handle it. This is true in real life, on the job, in public service, in volunteer work, and in life in general. People in charge give responsibility to those who show that they can handle it.

Therefore, the idea that this teaches materialism is inaccurate.

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What is the proper use of money in this passage? In v8, we are told that the non-Christians are often more shrewd in using their goods to further their interests, while Christians are less so. So how can Christians use their money and goods to gain the best results for themselves? If we believe that God gave us our money, what's the best way to further God's ends? How can we spend our goods and money for the growth of God's kingdom?

Yes, the man mismanaged the funds for the original master, but that just introduces the setup for what follows -- he is shown to be shrewd in using his position and goods for his best advantage. In v8, the master commended his steward for his smarts. Jesus applies this story to His hearers by telling them to use their goods to gain the best ends, and that means being faithful with what has been entrusted to them, vv10-12.

Jesus is addressing the Pharisees in Luke 15:1-2, who murmured that He "receives sinners and eats with them." Jesus uses that opening to share several truths that they had completely missed. These Pharisees were not going out to the sinners in love; they were wasting their opportunities. This passage is not for or against prosperity, but it's about not taking advantage of the opportunities to be of service and gain great rewards in the coming kingdom.

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