1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 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. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Today, we are going to start with three questions to help us wrap our minds around this difficult parable: First, what is the rich master commending his manager for? Second, what is the context of the parable? And, third, where does the parable end?
First question first. What is the rich master praising the wasteful, dishonest manager for? It isn’t for his dishonesty when the manager illegally lowers the bills of the debtors. Instead, the master praises the manager’s shrewdness. And this is actually in line with God’s character.
Think back to Jacob. Jacob was certainly dishonest (in fact, ‘Jacob’ means ‘deceiver’ or ‘cheater’), but Jacob was also an extremely shrewd man who took advantage of all sorts of situations to benefit himself – which is what shrewd means. When Jacob’s exhausted brother Esau came in from the field, Jacob shrewdly took advantage of the situation by selling Esau a bit of soup at the cost of Esau’s birthright. When Jacob’s father Isaac was old and blind, Jacob shrewdly took advantage of the situation by dressing up like Esau and receiving their father’s blessing. When Jacob’s father-in-law Laban was distracted, Jacob shrewdly fled with his wives and children to move back to Canaan.
While we might think that God would want to disassociate Himself with as shrewd a man as Jacob, God doesn’t. God calls Himself the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. In fact, twenty-three times in Scripture God calls Himself ‘the God of Jacob.’ God isn’t ashamed to be associated with the shrewd. So, again, the rich master doesn’t praise the dishonesty of the manager; he praises his shrewdness.
To the second question: What is the context of the parable? Well the first verse gives us a little bit of the context. Jesus tells this parable to the disciples. Jesus isn’t giving this parable to the masses, but only to those who have left everything to follow Him. Unbelievers might take this parable to mean that Jesus doesn’t mind if you are a scoundrel who only does things for your own benefit. That’s not the point of the parable! This parable is told to believers so that they would shrewdly know to expect, count, and bank on God’s mercy and grace.
Also, the context of this parable is all of Luke 15. In the opening of Luke 15, the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling that Jesus is receiving and eating with sinners. So, Jesus tells them the parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. Notice, please, I said ‘the parable’ not ‘the parables.’ The three are, in my opinion, best understood as one parable and taken together as a single unit.
Also, each of them is terribly named. Instead of the name ‘the Lost Sheep,’ it should be called the ‘the Good Shepherd.’ Instead of the name ‘the Lost Coin,’ it should be called ‘the Persnickety Woman.’ Instead of the calling it ‘the Prodigal Son,’ it should be called ‘the Wasteful Father.’ The sheep, the coin, and the younger son are not the focal point of the parable, and they are damaged when we make them the center. Instead, it’s the goodness of the shepherd, the persistence of the woman, and the mercy of the father that should draw our attention. The same is true of this parable before us, the central point of the parable is not the dishonesty and shrewdness of the manager but the mercy of the master.
Think back for just a moment to the misnamed parable of the Prodigal Son: The father mercifully gives his younger son his share of the inheritance early, and that little brat wastefully squanders it (Lk. 15:13). We need to realize that inheritance included money, but it mainly included land. The merciful father had to sell off at least one-third of his land to give that little imp his inheritance. That means the kid frittered away several generations worth of blood, toil, and sweat while ruining his family’s name and reputation in the community. And when the funds run out, the little churl saunters back home to beg for a job from his father so he doesn’t have to eat pig slop. But the father won’t have it, not because he wants the kid eating swine slop, but because he wants his son back. The father mercifully runs to him, embraces him, dresses him up in the best cloths, and throws a party because he has welcomed his son back into the family.
That’s the context of this parable which is tied to that one. The mercy of the father there and the mercy of the master in this parable are meant to be seen together. In other words, with this parable Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Listen guys, God’s mercy really is something you can bank on. Check this out…”
Finally, and briefly, the third question to help us understand the parable: Where does it end? It’s probably best to see the parable ending with Jesus saying, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” Which means that the next sentence (the second half of v. 8) is the beginning of the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us. “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”
So now, with all of that in mind, let’s quickly consider the parable:
The rich man finds out that his manager is wasting his possessions, so the rich man fires the manager on the spot, but throws him a bone of mercy. The rich man could have tossed his manager straight into prison. But, instead, the merciful master sends the manager back to his office to collect the books before he turns them in. The fired manager realizes he’s in a bad spot. He’s too weak to dig and too ashamed to beg. So, the manager formulates a plan. The rich man’s debtors have no idea that the manager has been canned, so he has a small window of opportunity. He calls the debtors in “one by one” (v. 5) and lowers each person’s debt. It is interesting to note that he reduces each debt an equal amount of denarii which shows how hastily his plan was formulated. The reduction of fifty measures of oil and reduction of twenty measures of wheat both equal 500 denarii (or days’ wages).
Two other things are important here. Notice, that the manager has each debtor take the pen and write with their own hand and in their own penmanship the reduced amount (more on that in a minute). The other important thing is that the debtors go along with the reduction in their bills which indicates their suspicions aren’t raised. The manager likely told them that he had convinced the master to reduce their debts. The debtors know the master, and he isn’t a hard, unforgiving man. Instead, he has a reputation of being merciful.
So, the manager arranges the books, saunters back to headquarters, and walks straight into the master’s office blowing on the wet ink of the newly reduced debts with a wry smile on his face. The master can see that the books have been changed and realizes that the debtors know about it. He hears the whole town out in the streets singing his praises for the merciful reduction of their debts.
The master had every right to reinstate the debts, but he doesn’t want his reputation of being merciful to be tainted. The master would rather eat the loss than have his mercy put into doubt. So, the merciful master praises and commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.
By cutting the large bills of the master’s debtors, the shrewd manager went ‘all in’ on the mercy of the master, and it paid off. The manager is forever associated with the master’s mercy and the debtors will always deal kindly with him so he won’t have to dig or beg.
Again, the merciful master praises the manager for his shrewdness. The manager knew which way to fall, and he fell on the mercy of the master.
Here’s the point, dear saints. You too can always fall on the mercy of your Heavenly Father, the truest Merciful Master of all. But too often we are hesitant to do so.
God repeatedly gives you opportunities to reveal His goodness and mercy to others, but you’ve blown it. God puts you in the midst of your family with parents, siblings, cousins, and in-laws who fight, hold grudges, and speak the worst about each other. God puts you there so that you can imitate Him and be merciful and forgiving like He is, but you’ve blown those opportunities.
God puts you among children and grandchildren who aren’t grateful. Instead, they are rude, selfish, and self-absorbed. God gives you all sorts of opportunities to show unconditional love while making God your Father look good. But you’ve blown it.
God places you in a workplace or classroom where you are treated unfairly, taken advantage of, bullied, and receive all sorts of nasty behavior. God wants you to act shrewdly and do what no one else would – turn the other cheek and return all that evil for kindness and love. But you’ve blown it. Dear saints, we have all failed to use what our Merciful Master has given us to serve our neighbor because we don’t trust His mercy. Repent.
Repent, but also rejoice because you have a Savior who is just like the shrewd manager (minus the dishonesty). Jesus is the supreme Shrewd Savior, the Ultimate Trickster who took advantage of every situation to save you from sin and hell.
Satan was hungry, but not for a bowl of soup. The devil wanted to swallow all of humanity in his jaws. But Jesus, the Shrewd Savior inserted Himself into those jaws with all your sin laid upon Him (Is. 53:6). When Jesus died on that cross, all of your sins died with Him. While Satan and his minions celebrated the death and burial of Christ, Jesus strolled out of the tomb on the third day bursting the jaws of death and giving you an eternal victory.
Jesus even dealt shrewdly with God and His wrath against sinners. Christ went to the cross, covering Himself with all your sins. He managed your debt not just by reducing it, He eliminated it.
Dear saints of God, your Shrewd Savior doesn’t ask you how much oil you owe, He anoints your head with the oil of His mercy (Ps. 23:5). He doesn’t check to see how much wheat you owe. Instead, He gives you Himself as the Bread of Life (Jn. 6:51).
Christ does all of this because He is your Merciful Master and Shrewd Savior. Put your trust there, in His mercy. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.