“THE MASTER COMMENDED the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).
The above bizarre statement of Jesus celebrating the dishonest actions of a “shrewd” manager often strike us with a lot of confusion.
It seems as though Jesus is not only excusing the fraudulent choices of a manager but actually holds him up as the example.
To make things even more confusing, everywhere else in the New Testament where this word is used it is translated not as “shrewd” but “wise,” “careful,” “considerate” or “prudent.”
What are we missing?
The scene is set before us, Jesus is confronting the criticism of his opponents who ridicule him for “receiving sinners and eating with them” (Luke 15:1).
Overhearing them, he speaks three parables that demonstrate the joy in heaven over one lost sinner who is found by God’s grace.
Then he shifts gears; looking still at his disciples he begins, “There was a rich man who had a manager and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions” (Luke 16:1).
The rich man gave enough time for the manager to put the books in order, then that was the end of his employment.
Then the manager, out of self-preservation, falsifies the ledger in favor of those who owe money in hope that the debtors will remember him when he’s on the street and in need.
After all of that we get the words above from (Luke 16:8).
Is it any coincidence that at the beginning of Luke 15 Jesus is criticized for socializing with sinners and by the middle of chapter 16 he is using sinners as the example?
Not just an example for his opponents but also for his disciples and all the sons of light.
It might appear at first glance that Jesus is promoting the breaking of the Seventh Commandment with this parable, but we know that’s not the case.
He is simply celebrating the “shrewdness,” the “wisdom,” and I dare say the “creativity” of the manager to preserve his life.
The manager was driven, motivated, resourceful and ingenious with the time and assets he had left.
Jesus pivots on this truism and hits the pharisees, scribes and his own disciples right between the eyes.
To paraphrase him, why aren’t you shrewd, wise, creative and resourceful with the true riches you have been given in this life?
When was the last time you used the same level of ingenuity as this manager for the mission of Christ, “To seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10)?
If we were honest with ourselves, we see how we have become apathetic in this department.
In fact, we have become that wasteful manager.
We have been given immeasurable riches found not in gold or silver but in the blood of our Lord spilled on calvary’s timbers and in the rays of light breaking forth from an empty tomb.
Has our drive, creativity and resourcefulness turned into a stagnant, defeatist, pessimistic approach to living out our co-mission with Christ?
Comfort can kill; when we become too comfortable with our faith life the way it is and stop cultivating it, or exercising it, we then can only watch it fade and wane.
In fact, we risk our place in heaven being wrenched away by our apathy.
If we squander this gift we become lost in our ease and our comfort becomes our death sentence.
The parable of the talents as he is in Matthew 25 build on this idea with the words to the fearful servant who buries his master’s talent is referred to as a wicked, slothful and worthless servant who will be cast into the outer darkness.
With this we hear the weight of the words of Luke 14:34-35,“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:25).
Or even the words from Revelation 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
The manager from Luke 19 was creative because his life was on the line.
Perhaps we need to be reminded that our life is on the line as well if we do not put our heavenly resources to work.
God is not simply comfortable with how he relates to you.
He is constantly on your pursuit, just like that shepherd that leaves the 99 for the one, or the woman who lost a coin, or the father running to his prodigal son.
He is not apathetic, but passionate as he went to all lengths to redeem you, even to the grave.
He draws near to you and he will never leave nor forsake you because due to his grace you have a heavenly inheritance as being his child.
Nothing can change that unless you waste it; so use it.
Have it define and refine you every day.
May you be seen as a child of light as the light of Christ radiates from you in all your relationships.
More than that, may you be wise, creative, ingenious and resourceful in how you invest your heavenly treasure of eternal life won through the blood of Jesus.
To him be the glory.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Patrick Lovejoy is pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Port Angeles. He can be contacted at 360-457-4122 or pastorlovejoy @rocketmail.com.