Luke 16:1-13 – The Parable of the Unrighteous Manager
Now He was also saying to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What am I to do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I will do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred jugs of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘A hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ And his master complimented the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it is all gone, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.
“The one who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much; and the one who is unrighteous in a very little thing is also unrighteous in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true wealth to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of 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 one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Luke 16:1-13 NASB 2020
One of the most interesting parables of Jesus is the Parable of the Unrighteous Manager, also commonly known as the Parable of the Shrewd Servant. In this story Jesus tells of a manager who is accused of doing his job poorly and wasting his master’s resources. Hearing these reports, the master calls a meeting with his manager and basically tells him he is going to be fired for cause. This understandably terrifies the manager because this job is the way he provides for himself and being fired leaves him with only two options that he finds completely unacceptable, manual labor or begging.
Given his precarious situation, the manager crafts a plan to ensure that he will have places to go and people to turn to when his termination is finalized. His plan consists of using his last day on the job to gain the loyalty of others by calling in the people who owed a debt to his master and quickly forgiving a substantial percentage of their debt. What is most interesting about this story is the reaction of the master to this new development. One would think he would be furious at the manager for costing him so much money, but instead the master praises him for his shrewdness.
The most amazing thing about this story is that Jesus also sees this shrewd manager as the hero of this tale. To many of us this doesn’t make much sense because it seems as if the manager is cheating his master to get ahead. It seems like a cynical PR move to achieve a selfish end, and in some ways it is, but Jesus is trying to show us that people of the world know how to best use the resources at their disposal to achieve a goal. And while the goal for this manager was his own personal comfort and provision, the goal for us as believers should be to reach those who do not yet know Jesus and one tool we can use to accomplish that goal is the financial resources God has given us.
Jesus choses to phrase this in a very interesting way when He says, “make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness”. Jesus isn’t saying to “buy your friends” for the same reason the shrewd servant did. Jesus doesn’t want us to use money to increase our popularity or standing with others for the sake of our own vanity, but rather in ways that give us opportunities to share the gospel with those who do not know Jesus.
Our use of money can have a large impact on how others view us and if we are seen as being generous and selfless with that money it can open doors and relationships that would have otherwise been more difficult to establish. It isn’t hard to imagine how you could jumpstart a friendship by treating a coworker or neighbor to dinner, buying them tickets to a show, or even just buying them a DVD or book you think they would enjoy. And once that relationship is in place it is much easier to share the hope you have in Jesus.
And that is the point of all of this. We were put on this earth to worship God and to spread His gospel to all people. Everything else we have should be seen as potentially servicing and amplifying that message. Knowing we cannot serve both God and money doesn’t mean that we have to give up all our money and live an impoverished life, but it does mean we should use that money in service of the gospel. That way we will be using our resources shrewdly, just like the manager in the parable, so that both our lives and our resources are in complete service of the One who gave us both.