Year C – Proper 20 – Luke 16:1-13

Luke 16:1–13 – “1   Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position 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 dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.””

Summary – This unusual passage is sometimes called the Parable of Shrewd Manager or the Parable of the Unjust Steward. The Steward is a freedman who is set over the estate of a wealthy man. It is reported that the Steward has squandered some of the wealthy man’s property. The owner determines to dismiss the steward over this. But now the steward will have nothing. He can’t labor (dig) and he is too proud to beg. So he comes up with a plan to get help from others. He addresses the debtors to the wealthy man and cuts their debts, in some cases by 50%. This will give the steward favor in the eyes of these debtors or perhaps even a job with someone else. One would think the wealthy owner would be even more mad at the steward, however, “his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” Jesus explains that his shrewdness was praised by even the owner and draws the analogy that the sons of light (believers) must also be shrewd with how they use “dishonest or unrighteous wealth.” We must be faithful in the lesser things, such as using money purposely, if we are to be entrusted with those things of greater value.

Insight – How could Jesus praise this cheating servant? After all he squandered some wealth and then gave away as much as 50% of the debts owed to the master. It is possible that the steward is wrongly accused of squandering and that the reduction of the debt is just the reduction of interest owed which is lessening usury charges (which were unlawful anyway). I doubt this is the point, though. The main lesson is that this man was resourceful with “unrighteous wealth” even to his last official action in office as a steward. It was not his ethics that were praised, but his shrewd action, his resourcefulness in the situation. Jesus is saying that the sons of light must use money and wealth in shrewd ways for the kingdom, because such wealth will not last. In the historical situation, all the wealth of Jerusalem was only going to be destroyed (70 AD). Those who sold houses and land for the kingdom were shrewd, like Barnabas (Acts 4:37). Being faithful in using money in this way qualifies one for greater investment  and that is what we see in the life of Barnabas who goes on to encourage Paul, lead the church in Antioch and pursue the extension of the kingdom in missions. Barnabas is a good example of the principle, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Catechism – Which two masters cannot be served together? You cannot serve God and wealth.

Discussion – Why is wealth in this parable called “unrighteous wealth” or “dishonest wealth”? Is all wealth dishonest? What are some ways to shrewdly use money for the kingdom?

Prayer – Father, we praise your for your infinite provision of life in Christ. Grant to us repentance from the love of money and joy in serving you with all our resources. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.