Luke records for us a very unique parable that has cause many problems in trying to understand. This is one of the few times where someone’s dishonest actions seem to be praised by Jesus. Because of this dilemma, Luke 16 has become an often ignored parable that Jesus spoke to his disciples. So let us consider the story Jesus tells and determine the key teaching of Jesus.
Jesus sets up the parable with rich man who received an accusation that his manager was squandering the rich man’s possessions. The manager is called in to give an account of his management and is informed that he will not longer serve as the manager. As we begin, we need to see that the manager is charged with mismanagement. He was misusing the owner’s possessions and because of this mismanagement, the oversight of the master’s possessions would be removed. I believe this is our first important key to understanding the parable.
The manager now has a problem. He realizes that he cannot go perform hard, manual labor. He also recognizes within himself that he is too ashamed to beg. Verse 4 is our second key: the manager comes up with a plan so that when he is removed from management, he will be welcome onto other people’s homes. The manager is going to make preparations to stay somewhere when he loses his job and is out on the street. Verses 5-7 describe the manager’s plan. He goes to the people who have debts to his master and tells them to cut their debts. The debtors do not know that the manager is pulling one over on the master and being dishonest. They simply think that the manager is acting on behalf of the rich man and that grace is being extended. The reason the manager does this is so that he can be found in favor with these debtors when he loses his job so that he will be able to stay with them.
Now, what comes in verses 8-13 is the difficulty people have with the parable, so let us examine what Jesus is saying closely. The master, when he finds out what this unrighteous, dishonest manager did, praises the dishonest manager. But carefully notice that the manager is not praised for being dishonest. The manager was praised for acting “shrewdly.” Other translations say “astutely.” The middle of verse 8 is the third important key to understanding Jesus’ teaching: “For the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” Jesus simply points out that people of the world can sometimes act smarter than the people of God. Now Jesus is going to have to help us understand how that can be. In verse 9 Jesus is going to tell what the people of God ought to do by drawing a parallel to what the people of the world do.
In verse 9 Jesus says that we are to make friends through money. Many of the versions use the phrase “unrighteous wealth” or “dishonest wealth” which leads to confusion. The Greek word is “mammon”, and the NKJV keeps that word in the version. Jesus uses this word so that we will not spiritual what He is talking about. Jesus is speaking about physical money. Jesus is talking about our possessions, our wealth, our money, and all that we have gained physically. Some translations make it sound like we are to be making the money through unrighteous means, but the translations are misleading and such a concept is not the intention of the Greek language. We are to use our wealth to “make friends” (vs. 9). But Jesus is not saying to make friends on earth with money, but to make friends in heaven with the money we use. No one on earth can give us eternal home. So clearly Jesus is speaking about friends in heaven, or those who can offer us a home. In short, Jesus is speaking about us become friends with God so that he will give us an eternal home.
The dishonest manager was shrewd enough to realize that he needed to make preparations for himself. The praise is not that he did it dishonestly nor that he was squandering possessions. The reason Jesus tells a story about a dishonest person is to make a point for emphasis. If worldly, unrighteous, dishonest people are smart enough to make preparations for themselves on earth, why aren’t the sons of light making preparations for themselves in “eternal dwelling?” So how does using our money, wealth, and possessions on earth make an eternal home? The explanation to this question is given by Jesus in verses 10-12.
“Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?” This is the first principle that Jesus gives as an explanation about how the use of our wealth prepares for us eternal homes. Jesus stated the principle very plainly: showing faithfulness with the riches of this world will show our faithfulness for the true, eternal riches. If we have been shown to be trustworthy with worldly wealth, then we will be trustworthy for the riches of God. The second principle is similar to the first: “And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” If we cannot found trustworthy with the riches that God has given us, why would God give us our own riches in heaven? God will not commit His true riches to us if we have been untrustworthy with earthly wealth.
So what was shrewd about the dishonest manager? It was not his unrighteousness nor his dishonesty what was being praised. The rich man praised the manager because he saw that he needed to make preparations for his destination. He knew that he was going to need a place to stay because he lost his job. Have you made plans for your eternal destination? This is the point of the story: everyone knows to make preparations for a place to stay on earth. We do not move somewhere without planning for a place to live. We do not go on vacation without having a plan for somewhere to stay. But people are not making plans for their final destination. No one is thinking about his or her eternal dwellings and that is foolish.
Now this is a stinging parable because we do not like the thought that how we use our earthly wealth matters to God. We want to think that this money is ours and that how we use our possessions and our money is strictly our choice and has no bearing on our souls. But Jesus is giving us a sharp reminder that the use of our money and possessions does matter to God. What we fail to see is that we act just like the dishonest manager because we forgot what the manager forgot: the money is not ours. The wealth is not ours and we will be accountable for the wealth we have received. This is how the very story begins and was our first key to the story. The manager acted like he could manage the money any way he liked and forgot he would have to report for his actions. When is the last time you and I thought about giving a report to God for how we handled our wealth and possessions?
So, how do you handle your wealth and possessions:
- Are we selfish with our money or are we selfless? Do we spend our money on others or do we spend it ourselves? We need to think about how God would want us to use the wealth we have received from Him. We need to think about how God wants us to use our money.
- Do I hoard money or do I cheerful give? Do I think of everything as “mine, mine, mine?” You know, two year olds act that way about their toys. Are we any better? How do I think of money: is it mine or is it God’s?