Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager (full text below) is perhaps one of the hardest parables to interpret. At first glance it seems to be about rewarding dishonesty!

What lesson is Jesus teaching His followers with this parable? Has any prominent theologian (eg Matthew Henry, NT Wright) explained this parable?

Luke 16:1-14

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. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

“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. 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?

“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.”

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.

share|improve this question
2  
it has to be significant that for all my years of sunday school, awana, etc, i have no memory of this story at all (unlike prodigal son and other known parables) -- maybe you aren't the only one who finds it too odd to figure it out! –  zipquincy Sep 6 '11 at 23:42
1  
I don't think the current edit really helps... 1) It's still a list/survey question, and 2) who defines "prominent theologian"? It's a relative term that could potentially mean anyone with a blog. –  Flimzy Aug 7 at 10:08
2  
I personally feel that the current edit makes it suitable for re-opening, but not strongly enough to do it unilaterally. I get Flimzy's concern about the list/survey question issue, but there's got to be balance or we'd have 90% 0f our questions closed. The site wouldn't survive. I'd suggest asking on Meta if this can be re-opened, to see how the rest of the community feels. –  David Stratton Aug 7 at 11:39
2  
Naturally my comment about bloggers being theologians is meant as a bit of hyperbole, but it's an important point. Sure, NT Wright would be considered a prominent theologian by most people. But what about CS Lewis? Or Brian McLaren? Maybe Rob Bell or Kenneth Copeland? I don't know what each of these "theologians" says about this parable, but I do know that Lewis and Bell would vehemently disagree on the nature of Hell, for instance. And there are prominent theologians from literally every Christian sect. So simply asking what "theologians" say on an issue is akin to "What do Christians say?" –  Flimzy Aug 7 at 12:04
1  
@Wikis You can see re-open votes in the revision history. It looks like comments have all the discussion there is. You have all the info I have. –  Caleb Aug 8 at 8:45

14 Answers 14

The Lord has given each and every individual to make used of talent for the kingdom of God in a multiple way.The cunning fellow though he has no resources of his own to help other. Yet what he could do was, he can ease out the heavy burden of his master debtors though at the expensed of his rich master. This is what he can do.It seems his action is to be unjustified and yet the shrew manager however acted wisely, cleverly to save the poor debtors which he ultimately expected to gain favour from them; using the only the power and resources he can make used of it to do good for other people which ultimately will bear fruit for him.Jesus often mentioned that Christians should love each other and help each other at the time of needs without delay.People have different circumstance to help other. The situation we see with this shrew manager to help other people at this moment is, he has to make used of his master wealth, which he has been apart of it, though it was not actually belong to him.This is how Jesus often emphasizes the principle of helping poor people who are in needs. By taking example from this lesson we cannot excused ourselves saying that we do not have the opportunity to work for God. In every circumstances we can pursuit salvation to our soul or earn our reward.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to C.SE. When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. As it stands, this answer really needs to be sourced to what others have said about this. I think you're right, but we are looking for academic answers here. –  Affable Geek Oct 22 at 13:17

God wealth is His true love, unconditional forgiveness and inconceivable grace to us, His mangers. But we are failure here on earth, born in sin, but are unable to manage His wealth due to our selfish nature. Our self effort fails Him because we struggle in our flesh (all sin and fall short) Because of this, He says we should use what we have and know in our riches of this world to get close to those who reject Him so that our lives may be a witness to the world. He is saying that the world rejects Christ's followers, but deals nicely to those who don't stand judgement and righteousness. We tend to Judge and push the lost away through conviction, but Jesus never condemned, not one. Be kind and treat eachother kindly and His Love through us and our living witness will help those find His eternal Light and Life. This how my spiritual eyes and ears have read and heard this. I pray this brings blessing to your spiritual heart.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to the site! As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Stratton Oct 23 '13 at 12:31

This is what the parable of the shrewd Manager means-especially where the Master says 'For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light'

For Example: In a worldly organization, they welcome you on board, introduce you to the Team, hand over the office to you, and probably mentor you so that they are sure you know the policies and expected output so that the Worldly organization will make even more profits with a new employee such as you who brings new skills on board. On the other hand, The people of the light when you are newly born again (i.e. a new employee) will look at you judgmentally remembering your past sins that the Master has forgiven you, will be afraid to be close to you-a recent known sinner- will whisper behind your back, will Grumble against your lack of experience, rage at the sins you commit without taking time to tell you about the critical need to be Spirit filled and may not take time to train you in the Holy Ways of the Master Lord Jesus-yet the LORD has saved you and brought you on board to contribute to the Increase in HIS Kingdom.

Hence the people of the world HELP their own kind to achieve in worldly gains but the people of the light oftentimes HINDER their own to achieve in the Holy ways of The Kingdom of GOD. The answer lies in this-The people of The Kingdom need to show LOVE and patience, and not constantly complain, judge, condemn and grumble against each other. How much do we grumble about our Pastors, about the needy in church, about our children whom we have failed to set a good example for? the recovering alcoholic, the reformed prostitute in church... we remember their sins constantly. Jesus said, do not Cry for Me-Cry for yourselves and your children. Let us Repent and struggle to live a righteous life that we may be judged worthy to enter the Kingdom of God. Lord Jesus the Master is the Judge-not us.

share|improve this answer
2  
Welcome to C.SE. I'm not your downvoter, but I can't really upvote this either. While this may be perfectly sound, I see no support for your assertions. Here, we look for proved theses. When you get the chance, please check out our tour or how we are different than other sites. –  Affable Geek Aug 28 '13 at 21:50

Jesus is being sarcastic.

Read this way, it is consistent with his other preachings. Notice:

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Read that sarcastically. In our current way of speaking, it might be something like:

Go ahead, make friends with rich people with the money and clever dealings. Sure, go right ahead. Because when it is all gone, when you are dead, I'm sure they are going to let you stay in their big mansion in heaven. Yeah, that will work.

The sarcasm is actually a little clearer perhaps in the King James translation of the above, and put me on the scent of the sarcasm:

9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

Regarding the rich man praising the shrewd manager, Jesus' point is that all fellow money-hungry types will praise you for your cleverness in cheating and conniving--it's not intended to mean that Jesus thought the manager was morally good to do this. It's more that the rich man was telling the manager, "Ahh, well played. That was a good hustle." And that this is the level of human interaction, as opposed to the higher level of moral righteousness that Jesus is trying to highlight by contrast.

share|improve this answer

"Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors". We forgive debts hoping that we'll also be forgiven. The shrewd manager forgives debtors their debts, in hope that he will have a reward with them. "When I was hungry you fed me... for whatever you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done unto me". The reward in this parable is being welcomed into those forgiven's homes. The reward Yeshua (Jesus) speaks of is in the Kingdom. The aim of the shrewd manager is not to be commended by the master, or to keep his job, but to ensure his place somewhere after its over. 'For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than the people of the light'... the sinners are smarter than the pharisees realizing the situation they are in. They will forgive quicker those who've sinned against them, knowing the reward is greater, than the pharisees will. Also reminds me of 50cent 'get rich or die trying', can we 'get the Kingdom or die trying'? "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy". The manager had been serving money and greed, realizing his time was up he sought out gaining favor with people. So he practiced forgiveness of debts, towards a reward of being welcomed. So shall we be welcomed in the kingdom if we practice forgiveness. 'Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves...', who is that friend? Christ himself, dwelling within those who suffer or are indebted. The point is money can be used for God, but not served as a God. Like the previous parables, the shrewd manager was lost in serving money, but found when helping others with a smaller lump sum payment to settle debts. He turned away after being so lost, and helped those in debt. He gave up the old master for a new one.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to C.SE! I think this answer would benefit from some additional sourcing. I'd also invite you understand how we are different by checking out our help center page. –  Affable Geek Jun 14 '13 at 19:02

These parables were not meant to be simple or one dimensional. Not simple because concepts that require little effort to fathom are often undervalued and are also perhaps forgotten too easily. Not one dimensional - because Jesus had a relatively short ministry and needed to ensure his teaching covered a lot of ground. The earlier posting (-2) provides the best insight for me, I think that there is also a sub-text in the parable (also generally watered down in mainstream Church teaching) and that is that the 'Masters' business activities were almost certainly 'dishonest' either conceptually or practically and therefore the Manager was already culpable by simply being employed by him..... In a fallen world we frequently find ourselves working for corporate interests that are philosophically counter-intuitive to the message of Christ;for many of us, the best we can do is to ensure we steward our assets well and use our wealth to the ultimate good of the Kingdom.

share|improve this answer
2  
Welcome to C.SE! I'd invite you to read our faq, as this is more of a seminary level thing than a church or a forum. Ig you could cite sources, it would help! –  Affable Geek Apr 16 '13 at 4:30

First, understand that a Christian cannot serve God and money at the same time. This teaching has been watered down in Christian circles.

The manager is compared to the Christian who has still not given up his property: yes, you. And me.

Does this mean we are not allowed access to the Kingdom of God? NO. There is another option. You can make friends with those who have access. Then when your time runs out, THEY will help you get in.

To answer the question, the lesson that Jesus taught is that we should use our brains just as the manager used his. Look for the other options.

Jesus taught that those who helped even the most insignificant of his disciples would receive their reward.

He taught that no one could enter the Kingdom unless they gave up everything and followed Him.

Put those lessons together, and figure out that Jesus was offering a second way to access the Kingdom.

Hope this helped.


ETA Jon Ericson's questions and my answers to the questions.

Jon Ericson wrote: Hi there and welcome to our Christianity Q&A site!

Hi, Jon, and thanks for the welcome.

You wrote: That's an interesting interpretation, but it really doesn't jive with the way I read the rest of scripture. For instance, the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30) indicates that believers and unbelievers will "grow" side by side.

When are the tares ”outed”, not allowed to grow or survive?

When they lose their camouflage. When they don't have wedding garments on. (Matt 22:1-14).

What are the wedding garments that protect?

Right living. Apparently, if you don't do stuff that reveals your old nature, you'll not face temporal judgement: Acts 5:4

Studious living. If you bear fruit, formulate a correct understanding of God's Word: Luke 13:7

Productive Living. If you live out your lessons: Matthew 10:39-42

You wrote: 2 John warns about deceivers who will come knocking on our doors. (Or as my Sunday School teacher taught, "Just because you're in McDonald's, doesn't mean you're a Big Mac.)

You will only know them by their fruit (incorrect understanding of God's word) if you yourself possess the right understanding.

If someone knocks on my door and tells me that Jesus has revealed the way to be found pleasing to God ( Luke 12:32-33 NET “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is well pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourselves purses that do not wear out – a treasure in heaven that never decreases, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.),

I would receive them as a prophet. Hope this helped.

share|improve this answer
1  
Hi there and welcome to our Christianity Q&A site! That's an interesting interpretation, but it really doesn't jive with the way I read the rest of scripture. For instance, the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30) indicates that believers and unbelievers will "grow" side by side. 2 John warns about deceivers who will come knocking on our doors. (Or as my Sunday School teacher taught, "Just because you're in McDonald's, doesn't mean you're a Big Mac.) –  Jon Ericson Nov 16 '12 at 20:27
    
Hi Jon, thanks for the welcome. I edited my post to answer your questions. –  Footwasher Nov 17 '12 at 4:42
    
Are you really saying that the message of this parable is that if you give away all your possessions you can enter heaven without getting forgiveness for your sins? –  Wikis Nov 17 '12 at 12:48
    
Give Scripture to support your view. I'll provide the solution to where it fits in the framework. –  Footwasher Nov 17 '12 at 13:15
    
May I ask which framework you are using? –  Jon Ericson Nov 19 '12 at 17:29

This is my favourite summary of the parable:

enter image description here

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.—Jim Elliot (October 28, 1949 journal entry)

It refers to the pivotal verse:

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.—Luke 16:9 (ESV)


To me, the parable is about giving up worldly wealth for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Our life on this earth is short and will soon be taken away from us. It might seem foolish to cheat our master, but only if we are in service of a greater master. That's why Jesus adds:

If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”—Luke 16:11-13 (ESV)

Jim Elliot serves as a wonderful example of this. He left his young wife and baby daughter to visit the Waodani people, who are an indigenous people in the Ecuadorian Amazon. It was well known to Elliot and his four companions that the Waodani were extremely violent. They were killed, but as a result many Waodani became Christian. This was the story told in the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor.

Summary

The master is this world—our service to it is temporary. Therefore, we must not be fooled into serving worldly things, but ought to use worldly things to obtain eternal things.

share|improve this answer
    
See also: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/389/68 –  Jon Ericson Feb 27 '12 at 8:55
    
You've added lots of great answers but this one is over my head. What do you mean? –  Wikis Feb 27 '12 at 9:12
    
@Wikis: I added an explanation. Does it help? (I have a very clear idea about it in my own mind, but that doesn't mean I can communicate it!) –  Jon Ericson Feb 27 '12 at 9:29
    
A bit, thanks. But it also raises more questions. A husband and father leaves his young family, and that is condoned? The risk is the "end justifies the means" mentality. –  Wikis Feb 27 '12 at 10:15
    
@Wikis: Elizabeth Elliot was equally aware of the risk and encouraged him to go, so it wasn't as if Jim were sinning against her. It's really an amazing story, but one that is utterly foolish in the eyes of the world. –  Jon Ericson Feb 27 '12 at 10:23

I'm offering the following as a partial answer because the OP said he felt there was more to gain from this parable. I don't feel like what follows is anything new, but it helped me understand one of the ideas in it a little better by putting it in a context I can relate to.

Specifically, this is in reference to verse 9, which in the KJV reads

And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

Disclaimer: This quote is from a leader in the LDS faith. However, this is not a doctrinal statement, but rather a personal story from his life which he felt illustrated this idea. I will provide a link to the full article at the end.

I was converted in 1973 at the age of 24. I was single and living with my parents. As is traditional in Taiwan, my parents believed in Buddhism and wanted all their children to follow their religion. Before I learned about the Church I did not live the Word of Wisdom. I quit smoking and drinking the day I decided to be an investigator. It was not easy, but the desire to smoke and drink was burned out of me by the Holy Ghost.

When my mother found out I had attended the Latter-day Saint Church, she was very angry. It was very difficult to choose between respecting my parents and following the Savior. I did everything I could to maintain a good and respectful relationship with my parents, while living my new religion.

Three years after my baptism, I was called as a bishop. One year later I had the privilege of traveling to Salt Lake City to attend general conference. In those days imported cigarettes and wine were very expensive in Taiwan. My father asked me to buy some American cigarettes and wine for him on my trip. I told him I couldn’t. He was very upset and complained to my mother. I still remember her wise comment: “Your son is a bishop, and his religion does not allow him to smoke and drink. Asking him to carry cigarettes and wine for you would be like asking a Buddhist monk to carry a pig’s head through a street market.” My father said nothing after that because he knew that Buddhist monks are vegetarians and are highly respected in Chinese society. They would never carry a pig’s head in public.

My mother passed away several years ago. She did not want to change her religion, but she taught me wisdom I will never forget. She used her position of authority to help me with my father’s request in a way that I could not have done for myself.

Parables of Jesus: The Unjust Steward, by Elder Tsung-Ting Yang, published in the July 2003 Ensign. (emphasis added)

Elder Yang draws a parallel between his situation with his mother and father (both non-christians) and the steward making friends with the debtors, with the hope that they can help him out when he needs it.

Notice that early in the account, Elder Yang mentions he did everything he could to maintain a good and respectful relationship with his parents without compromising his christianity. Later, when his father only saw a disrespectful son and was angry, his mother was willing and able to intercede because of her position of authority in the family, her understanding of buddhist practices, and her understanding of her son's standards and his integrity in living them.

Again, I don't know that this adds new insight, but it helped me see a context in which cultivating friendships, regardless of their worldliness or difference in faith, is a worthwhile endeavor.

share|improve this answer
1  
Thanks, but as it stands I don't see the relevance to the parable. –  Wikis Dec 28 '11 at 15:21
    
@Wikis: I appreciate the comment. I've edited my answer to try and draw out the relevance to the parable that I see in this account. You are welcome, of course, to disagree. –  HTG Dec 28 '11 at 16:03
    
Sorry, I don't get it yet... Thanks for editing, though. –  Wikis Dec 28 '11 at 16:30

There's an interesting theory expressed in Appendix Note 4 of J. B. Phillip's translation The Gospels in Modern English (1957). I'll quote some short extracts and summarise the rest.

First, he says that the passage is "well-known for its difficulty of interpretation", then he offers the standard interpretation that the Christian should be "as shrewd about his spiritual future" as the steward was about his own "immediate security". He then says that he is unsatisfied with this interpretation because it "introduces a note of careful calculation for the future which is quite at variance with Christ's teachings elsewhere". Further, the passage goes on to say that minor dishonesty leads to greater dishonesty, which is an odd lesson to draw from that interpretation. (I'm somewhat paraphrasing here, as I don't want to quote massive chunks.)

He then offers a suggestion from Professor CC Torrey, a specialist in Semitic languages at Yale, that the original words were in Aramaic, and "suffered some alteration when written down in Greek". Under that assumption, you could make the difficult statements into questions:

Professor Torrey, in his own translation, makes the two difficult remarks in verses 8 and 9 into questions, viz. "Did the lord of the estate praise his faithless manager ...? and do I say to you ...?"

It's a nice suggestion, and certainly makes the parable easier to interpret: the lesson is faithfulness, "illustrating the fact that since even in worldly matters men cannot 'get away with it' — how much more essential is faithfulness in spiritual matters".

He then, in the appendix, offers a translation along those lines. In the main text itself, however, he follows the Greek text he actually has, and not the Greek text as he might like it to be.

I have therefore tried to make the best of it by suggesting that our Lord says, in effect, that the Christian must "outsmart" the "smart" by turning money, which has so many potentialities for evil, into a spiritual opportunity. But this still leaves the following verses about faithfulness rather "in the air".

share|improve this answer
    
Since I happen to have the book on my shelves. –  TRiG Oct 15 '11 at 12:54
    
This is very interesting. Thanks so much for taking the time to summarise it. Can you add some more detail on the translation? For example, was it only that those two verses were changed into questions? Or was there more to it? –  Wikis Oct 15 '11 at 19:50
    
This translation didn't change these two to questions in the main text; only in the appendix note. All I know of Torrey's translation, which did make them into questions, is what I read in Philip's appendix note and have summarised here. –  TRiG Oct 16 '11 at 10:36

In Luke's gospel, this parable is preceded by the parable of The Lost Son, and in both stories Jesus presents us with a character who has "squandered" money (Squandered - Gk: diaskorpizo appears in both parables). It is worth noting that both characters find mercy, despite their initial actions.

Whereas in The Lost Son parable, it is the warm forgiveness of a father toward his son, our main character [the Manager] in the present parable surely cannot expect such grace from an employer - and he'd be right: he get's fired!

So, in an act of shrewd "wheeling and dealing" he earns back the respect of his master, and earns a decent reference in the process! The discounts he offers to the debtors could possibly be a result of the Manager foregoing his commission, or perhaps removing interest. Of course, he could also be undercutting his master but that makes no sense considering he is subsequently commended for his actions.

Whatever discount he applies, we are left to presume it is at his own expense. The master is suitably impressed and commends him for his actions. This can only be so if the Manager takes the financial hit himself. He had already been fired, and could simply have walked away from the job, albeit disliked and disgraced. However, he is shrewd and supplies his master with some form of payment. He takes the decision to right his wrong, in a very shrewd and clever way (hopefully earning some points with the debtors along the way).

Jesus makes the insight that the unrighteous are much better at dealing with each other than the righteous - notably, however, he doesn't delve into the motives behind this! Being shrewd with finances is something Jesus wishes his disciples do, and surely the unrighteous should not be better at this than the people of God!

Christians ought to be wise with what they do with their money. Though the Prodigal Son, and the Shrewd Manager (and indeed the sinner) end up as the beneficiaries of grace, their initial actions are condemned in both stories. The charge to Christians stands: be shrewd and wise with your money. If you have not been, you should put it right.

The following lesson (vv10-13) show that it is indeed a requirement that God's people do not serve money. In the context of this parable, we can conclude however, that money may serve God.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks, I hadn't realized that the manager might be cancelling the debts with his own money. For me, that was key to understanding the parable. –  Josh Aug 25 at 22:55

Let us look at Luke 16:8:

8 “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.

What I think the parable is really saying is that we should take example of how an even a dishonest manager was able to prepare for future. Look at what he did for the people who loaned things. By lowering their pay, he would be insured of being accepted into their household for a time after he was fired. Jesus was telling us to take example of his wisdom for preparing for the future. In short, saying that we should prepare for our afterlife like that too. When we know that our days are numbered, we should follow the dishonest manager's wisdom from here.

share|improve this answer

The only way that I have ever had this explained to me which has made any sense was by my Biblical Hebrew professor. Basically, "Unjust manager" can mean, in Aramaic, "manager of the unjust." Basically:

  1. He wasn't unjust, he governed the unjust.
  2. He got caught up in one of his subordinate's scandals
  3. He cut out his commission (the top 20%) of the debt from one merchant (gave everything which was rightfully his)
  4. He forgave half of one merchant's debt (he covenanted himself to the servant)

The merchant then becomes a prototype for the Christian. The admonition to make friends with dishonest wealth. The entire story, then, is another place where Christ is admonishing us to be charitable and disregard the wealth of the world.

share|improve this answer
1  
In my studies I've found this to be the most satisfactory answer that I've heard - particularly with regards to #s 3 and 4, though I see a more utilitarian view that Luke has on $$ and not necessarily "charity." Your point still stands without that part ... especially the "disregard" part. He essentially removed his "cut" from the transaction so that when he was no longer employed, he'd still have a favorable reputation among them. The focus is not on the money itself, but rather on how (un)willing we are to allow it to wreck relationships, esp. in an honor/shame society. –  swasheck Feb 2 '12 at 23:39

From Mathew Henry's Concise Commentary:

Whatever we have, the property of it is God's; we have only the use of it, according to the direction of our great Lord, and for his honour. This steward wasted his lord's goods. And we are all liable to the same charge; we have not made due improvement of what God has trusted us with. The steward cannot deny it; he must make up his accounts, and be gone.

This may teach us that death will come, and deprive us of the opportunities we now have. The steward will make friends of his lord's debtors or tenants, by striking off a considerable part of their debt to his lord. The lord referred to in this parable commended not the fraud, but the policy of the steward. In that respect alone is it so noticed. Worldly men, in the choice of their object, are foolish; but in their activity, and perseverance, they are often wiser than believers.

The unjust steward is not set before us as an example in cheating his master, or to justify any dishonesty, but to point out the careful ways of worldly men. It would be well if the children of light would learn wisdom from the men of the world, and would as earnestly pursue their better object.

The true riches signify spiritual blessings; and if a man spends upon himself, or hoards up what God has trusted to him, as to outward things, what evidence can he have, that he is an heir of God through Christ? The riches of this world are deceitful and uncertain. Let us be convinced that those are truly rich, and very rich, who are rich in faith, and rich toward God, rich in Christ, in the promises; let us then lay up our treasure in heaven, and expect our portion from thence.

My understanding from this commentary is that the manager's goal didn't change - he wanted a comfortable lifestyle without working too hard - and used his Master's resources for his own purposes. Even when he was caught - and was about to lose the position that enabled him to achieve his nefarious goal easily, he made another plan, a very clever plan, and tried to win the affections of his master's debtors by slashing their debts - probably guaranteeing that someone would give him free board and lodging for a while.

Jesus is certainly not holding this man up as a shining example of morality, but of using his brains to try every possible method of achieving his aim. The aim was not noble, but his persistence and shrewdness in pursuing the aim was. What should we take from this then? We should learn from anyone - even those we want to label as "worldly" or "sinful" - to work hard and be shrewd in how we pursue God's aims.

The other aspect of this parable is using the stuff of this world for eternal purposes - In the first fraudulent scheme the manager was simply skimming the master's funds and putting them in his own pocket. His thinking was entirely in the pleasures of the here and now. Once he saw his cushy position coming to an end he started using the money to make friends to provide for him at the end of his present "life" when he no longer had any control.

share|improve this answer
5  
Maybe it's me, but I've read this through twice and am still not getting it. What is Jesus saying to us? Lay up treasure in heaven? Jesus said that in another place more clearly. Sorry, I don't get the meaning from this answer, even though it is from a great source. –  Wikis Sep 6 '11 at 21:10
    
OK - I'll try and add to my answer, though I still don't think I can say it better than Henry –  Bork Blatt Sep 6 '11 at 21:23
2  
You can quote a source, but please try to at least break out a summary or some way to help apply it to the question or something. See Answers copied from an external source –  Caleb Sep 6 '11 at 21:44
1  
Alright I have tried to expand on the quote from Mathew Henry. I still recommend reading his full commentary on this parable as he pulls some great nuances from it. It is still one of the most challenging parables from an interpretation standpoint. Makes the case that a good story can provoke much more thought than a pre-digested answer. –  Bork Blatt Sep 6 '11 at 21:55
1  
Jesus was taking his audience, the Pharisees, into account. He drew them in with this parable, then, when he had their attention, taught the verses in the rest of Luke 16. –  Gilbert Le Blanc Feb 27 '12 at 13:00

protected by Caleb Oct 22 at 8:33

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.