"'Now here's a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way -- but for what is right -- using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you'll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behaviour'" Luke 16:8-9 (The Message).
The point of this story is not easy to understand. We must not get lost in the details or we'll end up thinking that Jesus was advocating dishonesty as a way to wriggle out of the awkward situations we create for ourselves. Not at all! What was He really getting at?
Let's look at the story. A certain farm manager had been feathering his nest at his master's expense. When he was found out, he had to devise a plan to curry favour with his master's debtors so that, when he was fired, he would have friends to take care of him. He was too lazy or too proud to lower himself to doing manual labour. His plan was to reduce the debt of his master's debtors so that they would be indebted to him. Good plan if you can deal with your conscience!
When his master found out what he had done, he was so taken aback that he actually congratulated him on his wily scheme! Jesus often told stories that highlighted the contrast between the ways of the world and the ways of the kingdom of God. This is one of them.
For some strange reason, when we give our lives into the hands of Jesus, we seem to lose our sense of responsibility for some areas of our lives. For example, we ignore God's economic system, spend all our money and even go into debt like the rest of the world and then naively declare that God will meet all our needs.
Of course God has promised to meet our needs but that promise fits into a framework of responsible stewardship and not wanton spendthrift-ness. God never advocates that we make no provision for our future. He has built into His way of doing money a savings policy that ensures that we and our families are adequately cared for in times of crisis and for the future.
God's economic policy is built on giving, not hoarding, which ensures that we function in the realm of faith. Generosity is His way of keeping resources circulating. When we give what He asks us to give to make provision for the needs of others, He promises an abundant return on our generosity. In this way we are making deposits into a 'banking system' which will not crash with the stock market. So what does that have to do with this parable?
There is a principle in this story which believers need to get hold of. We need to be smart in the ways of the kingdom, just like this crooked manager was smart in the ways of the world, not in dishonesty but in the kind of risky living which takes God at His word and reaches out to take care of the needs of others first, above our own. The kind of righteousness that really pleases God is not the 'righteousness' which looks after its own reputation like the Pharisees' kind of righteousness - don't do this and don't do that. That is sterile 'do-nothing-ness' It produces only plastic fruit.
Jesus said that life is much more than getting by on good behaviour. Really living is about risking being generous in every way - not just being generous with our money but being generous with our hearts, forgiving when we have been wronged, loving when we are despised, treating all people with respect and dignity, even if they smell bad, and dying to our own selfish demands and requirements for the sake of others.
So here's the deal. A crisis in our lives demands a plan of action. Here is the simple principle; to look after your own needs, look after the needs of others and God will step in and take care of yours. Isn't that just what the crooked manager did? Now that's really being smart, not streetwise but kingdom wise, because that's how God's kingdom works.
Micah, the prophet, put it like this: “…What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 (NIV).
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