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?’
“ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’
“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 servant can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.”
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.
-------Luke 16: 1 – 15 (NIV)
In the above passage, we read the ironical story of a manager who was commended by his master for being wicked. In the story, the shrewd manager had got a hint that his job was hanging in the balance. He therefore played a fast one on his master. He quickly used the rest of his master’s wealth in his possession for ‘philanthropy,’ knowing that those who benefited from this unholy philanthropy would become his friends and rally themselves to his aid on the day of trouble.
This story was actually a parable told by Jesus Christ to His disciples. It would hardly be doubted that many of His disciples might have misunderstood or taken this parable amiss, just as the Pharisees had done as recorded in verse 14 of the passage. It is also true that many today appear to misunderstand the message that Jesus was trying to pass across through this parable. Such Christians and individuals tend to see through the passage, a galore for fraud, bribery, and all manner of financial impropriety, mouthing the excuse that:
“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.”
They tend to see through the passage, a hint that the end justifies the means.
One can hardly blame those who take this kind of stance about the parable, since this is literally one of the most difficult parables in the bible to understand. It is one of those stories which require one to read with understanding in order to unravel. But what is Jesus Christ, our Lord, really teaching us through this parable?
Firstly, shrewdness basically means: gaining advantage by being practical and decisive. It also connotes wisdom. To the people of the world, dishonesty is viewed as shrewdness or wisdom. In dealing dishonestly with his master and gaining advantage over him by using the wealth handed over to him to win worldly friends who would be of help to him in times of need, the manager was viewed as shrewd (wise) and therefore commended by his master.
To the people of the light or the people of God, what constitutes shrewdness or wisdom is honesty and not dishonesty. Just as the worldly manager was commended by his master for dealing dishonestly with the wealth handed over to him; God, our Master, will commend us if we deal honestly with the wealth He hands over to us in this world.
Secondly, Jesus advised in verse 9:
“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
If a Christian really wants to be shrewd enough or wise enough in dealing with his kind here on earth, let him use the material wealth given to him by his Master on earth to make friend with that person who alone holds the key to the “eternal dwellings” which is the place of everlasting rest. This person is none other than JESUS CHRIST.
A Christian can do this by honestly and freely using his material wealth to service the needs of other Christians. By doing this, the Christian should rest assured that he has serviced, and indeed, made friend with that person whose friendship alone matters, and who holds the key of the kingdom of all treasures. For Jesus Christ, Himself said:
“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40).