A perspective from the pew
Many people have a problem understanding Luke 16:1-15, because Jesus appears to praise bad behavior. This parable, like many, deals with the subject of money. A rich man and the rich man’s manager are the primary characters. The dishonest manager or steward is accused of misusing his boss’s possessions. He hatches a scheme to forgive a great portion of his client’s debt that’s owed to his boss. He does this out of pure self-interest, hoping to establish friendships with his debtors. This way, when things go bad, he will have relationships to help cover him. When his boss discovers the scheme, he praises him for his shrewdness.
Jesus doesn’t fully explain the meaning of the parable, so we are left feeling confused like his disciples, who often came to him afterwards wanting an explanation. Fortunately, most commentators agree that the key to understanding this parable is in verses 8 and 9.
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. Luke 16:8,9 NIV
It is important to remember that parables don’t have to be one hundred percent consistent. Parables are analogies and they only approach the truth. They often construct a scenario that gives us a unique view. If the analogy is accepted in it’s entirety, inconsistencies might develop. I believe this is the case with this parable.
Now, let’s examine verse eight; paraphrasing it says: You who are more righteous have a hard time using money appropriately but, look even this worldly wise man got it right; he used money to bless others. Why can’t you? Jesus is not condoning the manager’s misuse of funds, but his appropriate use of money to bring joy and relief to others. We who are in the light can learn a lesson from this ‘crook’. This is aimed at the religious folks who can get caught up in the details of right and wrong, missing out on mercy and the love of God. The unjust steward exercised mercy. The Pharisees knew Jesus was directing this parable at them as verse 14 indicates.
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him (Luke 16:14).
Consider Jesus earlier condemnation of the Pharisees.
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. Luke 11:42 NIV
It is interesting that this parable is sandwiched between the parable of prodigal son and the parable of Lazarus. These parables also deal with money and possessions. It is my suspicion that at some level the parable of the unjust steward touches on the deeper themes expressed in those parables.
The prodigal son also speaks to forgiveness. Jesus is more concerned with justice and mercy than the mere handling of money properly. The unjust steward exercised mercy and this is the behavior Jesus is encouraging.
The story of Lazarus speaks to being eternally minded. Our actions have long lasting or eternal consequences. In a figurative sense the unjust steward’s mercy was future thinking. He considered his future judgment when he acted. Verse 9 from the parable tells us if we use our possessions, money, or lives for good purposes we be welcomed into eternal dwellings. As Christians we want to be eternally and kingdom minded.
Read ‘Modern Parables For Financial Freedom’ it has a story, Hairpin Turns, that illustrates a married couple using their resources to help a young man in an unusual way, which sort of illustrates Luke 16. See what you think.
Closing prayer: Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Mercy & Peace