Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
After the story of the prodigal who wasted his inheritance on wild living, Jesus tells another story about wasted wealth. In Luke 16, a rich landowner summons his manager and says, “I hear you’re wasting my wealth instead of managing it. You’re fired!”
The manager doesn’t know what to do. He has no unemployment insurance. He could try begging, but that’s way below his social status. He’s not strong or humble enough for manual labor. And he certainly doesn’t want to tend pigs like the prodigal.
Then he gets a brilliant idea! What he really needs to tide him over is not money, but friends. Friends who will supply bed and breakfast, take him for a leisurely lunch, and open a bottle of wine in the evening. But where can he find friends like that? “Perhaps among my master’s tenants,” he thought. “I just need to reinvent myself as a helpful friend instead of a hard-hearted rent collector. “
So the manager made friends by writing off part of every tenant’s debt. He gave the first one a 50% discount on the olive oil he owed. And the next one a 20% discount on the wheat he owed. And so on, down the list of tenants.
When the owner heard about the deals his ex-manager was cutting, he changed his mind and said, “That’s a creative solution to your problem. I like your style. Why don’t you stay on as my manager?”
What’s up with this? Wasn’t the manager ripping off his master by cooking the books?
There are three ways we can look at this.
The first thought: maybe the ex-manager was not falsifying accounts. Maybe these were deadbeat accounts, and the master was glad to get any payment out of them. This view makes the bookkeeping in the story work out. But when did Jesus ever show concern for accurate bookkeeping? In another story, the master forgave a multi-million dollar debt with a shrug of his shoulders.
Here’s a second thought: perhaps the owner gave the manager a contract to collect rent. In this view, all the owner wanted was a fixed franchise fee. The manager could charge the tenants whatever he wanted–fair commissions or wild extortions–and he could keep the overage. If this is how it worked, then the manager was shrewd but not dishonest, because it was his own commissions he reduced to make friends.
And there’s a third way to look at this curious story: Perhaps the manager did indeed act illegally and immorally by reducing debts that were not his to forgive. The master’s response was completely unexpected and surprising. Perhaps he was a friendly, jovial, party-throwing type of owner, almost like the prodigal son’s father who didn’t complain that his wealth was wasted in a far country. Maybe this owner didn’t care that his manager was giving away bundles of money. Instead, he was pleased that the manager finally focused on building relationships instead of counting and accounting for all the money.
Whatever interpretation you choose, here’s Jesus’ conclusion. He said to his hearers, ”Use the wealth of unrighteousness to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).
O Jesus, your story points out that we are far too focussed on bookkeeping. We in the rich world have accumulated the “wealth of unrighteousness” and we hoard it to protect our lifestyle.
We are the unjust manager. You gave us the world, and we waste its wealth to make our lives comfortable. We rip off your tenants all over the world to maintain our standard of living. We pollute the atmosphere, oppress migrant workers, and treat the poor like slaves. We are hard managers, proudly self-sufficient and independent. In the economy we have built, the man robbed by thieves or choked to death by police is “Not Our Problem.”
O Jesus, help us be like the manager in your story, to use the wealth you give us for good, to share it with every tenant who works on your land in the world.
May we gladden the heart of God by using his resources to make friends for this life and the next.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.
For interpretations of the parable see:
Beavis, Mary Ann. Ancient Slavery as an Interpretive Context for the New Testament Servant Parables with Special Reference to the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-8) in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 111, No. 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 37-54. Found at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3267508?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=luke&searchText=16&searchText=1-8&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dluke%2B16%253A1-8%26amp%3Bfilter%3D&ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_search%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3A2272f7cd05dbb56c7c242b2363b3d17e&seq=15#metadata_info_tab_contents
Gachter, Paul. The Parable of the Dishonest Steward after Oriental Conceptions in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 2 (April, 1950), pp. 121-131. Found at:
Capon, Robert Farrar. The Parables of Grace. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988. pp. 145-151.