16 1-2 Jesus said to his disciples, “There was once a rich man who had a manager. He got reports that the manager had been taking advantage of his position by running up huge personal expenses. So he called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? You’re fired. And I want a complete audit of your books.’
3-4 “The manager said to himself, ‘What am I going to do? I’ve lost my job as manager. I’m not strong enough for a laboring job, and I’m too proud to beg. . . . Ah, I’ve got a plan. Here’s what I’ll do . . . then when I’m turned out into the street, people will take me into their houses.’
5 “Then he went at it. One after another, he called in the people who were in debt to his master. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
6 “He replied, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’
“The manager said, ‘Here, take your bill, sit down here—quick now—write fifty.’
7 “To the next he said, ‘And you, what do you owe?’
“He answered, ‘A hundred sacks of wheat.’
“He said, ‘Take your bill, write in eighty.’
8-9 “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”
Jesus told the complicated parable above to his disciples. It is a story about the dodgy dealings of a set of rogues.
The dishonest steward, the main rogue, was in charge of running his master’s estate. It was common practice at that time, in an attempt to bypass the Jewish laws against charging interest, to trade in commodities such as oil and wheat. The unwritten rule was that debtors would be charged for more than they had received.
The debtors in this parable were also rogues, and the steward knew they would be susceptible to bribery if he discounted their invoices.
The dishonest steward knew he was about to be fired because he had been disloyal to his master. He wondered how he could salvage something for himself. He was too proud to beg and too weak to work, so he devised a survival plan. This was to make his master’s debtors indebted to himself by reducing their debts (probably only removing the interest he had added in the first place). He felt that they, in turn, would feel obliged to offer him houseroom and friendship after he had been sacked
The steward’s action is not surprising. In the “dog-eat-dog world” of the 1st century Middle East. But why does the master commend his dishonest steward for his actions – after all, he had given a great deal of his money away?
Well, a cut-throat person often admires this trait in another person – or it takes one to know one, as they say. The master acknowledged the great cunning of the steward in removing the interest on the debt, something the master could hardly complain about as it was an illegal practice. In doing so, the steward made the debtors indebted to him. That was the essence of the scam.
But what about Jesus? He seems to not only commend what the dishonest steward did; but also recommend His followers do the same! Why?
Well, Jesus is effectively saying to his disciples, now, learn a crucial lesson from a most unprincipled set of people. If the people of this world, to take care of their worldly affairs, are willing to put everything they have into securing a future that will not last, then we, the children of light (Christians), should make even more effort to ensure our eternal future.
In other words, Christians need to invest more in eternity than in tomorrow.
Jesus is saying to his disciples (and so to us) I want you to be clever in the same way these rogues were—but for what is right. I want you to be wise rather than cunning. He says he wants us to use every adversity to stimulate a creative counterreaction. Concentrating on the bare essentials of our eternal hope so that we will live, really live our lives to the full, and not complacently just get by on good behaviour.
How can we apply this to our lives today?
The tools used by the dishonest steward to safeguard his earthly position and comforts were cunning and money. The tools used by Christians to attain their eternal goals are wisdom and love.
And love works hand in glove with Christian virtues. Virtues such as purity, humanity, charity, persistence, patience, kindness, and humility are all part of our currency. We must use this currency wisely, energetically, and creatively for our eternal salvation, just as the dishonest steward used cunning and money to keep his earthly life safe.
What Jesus said was, don’t think you can just sit back, and a glorious eternity will come your way. Instead, he said, be wise, be your own steward, and be an honest Christian steward. Plan how you can do the very best you can in your time here on earth to ensure the ultimate eternal outcome – put up a fight for it if need be. But stay on the side of righteousness…….. be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
Jesus teaches this lesson also in the Sermon on the Mount where he says;
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19–20