Luke 16:1–15—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.”
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is not an easy parable. It comes on the heels of the three famous parables: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son – remember better titles for those parables would focus on the main characters: The Reckless Shepherd, The Persnickety Woman, and The Wasteful Father.
Remember back in Lk. 15:1-2, the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling because Jesus was receiving tax collectors and sinners and eating with them. Jesus was surrounding Himself with all the lowlifes of society, the riffraff, the scoundrels, and the bums. To those tax collectors and sinners, His followers [disciples], Jesus tells this parable. But the Pharisees and scribes certainly heard it too.
Can’t you just see Jesus trying to hide the smile on His face as He told this parable. Can you imagine the shock and horror of the Pharisees and scribes as they hear Jesus tell this parable about the manager’s and his unrighteous, sinful actions and then praising him?
In this parable, Jesus presents a rich man who is so full of mercy and grace that he is happy to be cheated repeatedly rather than ceasing to be merciful and gracious.
The rich man catches his manager red-handed cooking the books and stealing. The rich man is an honest man, and so he can’t have an unrighteous, dishonest man managing his books. The rich man not willing to tarnish his reputation of being righteous and just at the expense of his unrighteous manager. In other words, the rich man does not overlook the sin. He tells the unrighteous manager, “Pack up your things. Turn in the books. You’re fired.”
The manager realizes that his very life is in danger because this is the only job he can do. He is an accountant – a dishonest accountant – but an accountant nonetheless. When word gets out that he has been fired because he is a crook and a cheat, no one will ever hire him to be an accountant again. He can’t do anything else. He is not strong enough to dig, and he is too ashamed to beg. The fact that he is fired is an utter and complete disaster.
The manager realizes that he is in huge trouble, faced with a major crisis. He whole life is burning down. He needs help.
But he doesn’t waste any time. He thinks on his feet, and he acts. He acts quickly.
The unrighteous manager knows that his master is being merciful. He could, and maybe should, have been thrown into prison immediately, but he was not. Instead, the rich man has mercifully given the manager a sliver of time. So the unrighteous manager decides to bet his entire future on the mercy of his former boss. The unrighteous manager goes ‘all-in’ on the master’s grace.
As he goes back to his office to collect his ledger, the unrighteous manager summons all of his master’s debtors. He is going to purchase, friends for himself, not spending his own money, but charging the expense on the rich man’s credit card.
The unrighteous manager lowers all the tenant’s bills.
As far as the tenants know, the rich man has instructed the manager to lower the bills. As far as the tenants know, the rich man is the source of this mercy and grace. But, in the end, the tenants don’t really care why this is happening. All they focus on is the fact that they have been freed from their debts, and they are thankful.
The unrighteous manager hopes that some of the villagers’ praise and thanks will spill over to him too. Maybe one or more of the villagers will help him when they see him destitute and out of a job. Maybe they will help him so that he will not have to dig or beg.
So, now, picture this final scene: The unrighteous manager dismisses the very last debtor who skips out of his office because his debt has been significantly reduced. The unrighteous manager takes a deep breath and smirks. Even he can barely believe he is trying this. He picks up the pile of papers reflecting the discounted debts. The ink is still wet. He closes the door to his office for the last time and walks to the rich man’s office. As he opens the door, he rich man is looking out his window watching the whole village dancing and shouting for joy. He turns toward the manager who is waving the bills in the air to get the ink as dry as possible. With a crooked smile, he hands the bills over and they have obviously been reduced.
What does the rich man think? What does he do?
He commends and compliments the unrighteous manager! He sees the joke. Yes, the joke is very expensive and at the rich man’s expense, but it’s still funny.
The rich man can’t turn stop the singing and dancing by saying, “No, no, no. This man was fired. He had no right to change your bills. The bills are all going back to what they were.” If he stopped the party and celebration like that, the villagers would turn against him forever. The rich man’s reputation of generosity and mercy would be forever lost, and he won’t have that.
This is a beautiful story where everyone wins. The villagers have less debt; the rich man has tenants who love him; and the unrighteous manager will probably not have to dig or beg to keep himself alive.
Do not be offended that the unrighteous manager gets away with his cheating and stealing – the rich man isn’t. If the rich man is willing to die to those debts that are owed to him, why aren’t you?
Why do you find it so difficult to get over the fact that the rich man, the God character in this story, is willing to die to what is owed to Him? Maybe you are thinking, “It simply is wrong, unfair, unjust that the rich man didn’t nail that sinner.” You are right – how beautifully wrong, unfair, and unjust. How gracious, loving, and merciful.
You see, this parable is so difficult because it so clearly reveals God’s mercy and grace. When you look at it, you think it is about sin and deceit, but you are wrong. It is important to note, that Jesus doesn’t use this parable to praise the unrighteous manager for his stealing or cheating. No, Jesus praises his shrewdness.
Just as the rich man was willing to be cheated by the unrighteous manager, God is willing to be the butt end the poorly told joke of our lives.
Like the unrighteous manager, your life is an absolute disaster and crisis. Like the unrighteous manager, you need help. Like the unrighteous manager, your life is too messy and complex to deal with on your own.
You live in a world where evil is answered with evil; you see it every day. Today, Jesus is challenging you to see the moral complexity of our world as an opportunity. That’s right, the mess of this world and your life is an opportunity to find different ways to show this world of thieves and cheats the justice, love, peace, and mercy of your God.
You have a God who loves you in spite of yourself. A God, who through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, is the only one who can bring you out of your messes – the messes you and your selfishness create. Amen.
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.