Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Parable of the Shrewd Money Manager: A Difficult Parable Instantly Made Simple

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The parable in Luke 16 of The Shrewd Money Manager is part of a series of parables which our Lord Jesus uses to teach those who have gathered, first at a dinner which he was attending as a guest and later in a more general setting. Before this parable, for example, we have the parable of the lost sheep, lost coin and lost (prodigal) son. The setting describes both saved and unsaved people being our Lord's audience.

Often, in parables, certain elements of the parables are equated with divine and human persons. For example, in the lost or prodigal son, the father (the authority figure) is representative of God. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to determine these things in each parable because they cannot be assumed to be true in all other parables. Each must be determined in and of themselves as to whether or not the carry these parallels with them.

The parable of the shrewd money manager is one which has many commentaries providing different interpretations. I believe much of the misunderstanding is by way of over complicating the issue and wrongly defining who or what is being represented. I will post the parable and then afterward explain it in its very simple intention in order to eliminate the difficulty which so many have with this particular lesson. But first a summary.

Summary of the Parable

Essentially, we have a parable or story of a man who was responsible for managing the accounts of a wealthy lender. At a certain point in time the lender came to his subordinate and told him he was going to fire him because the manager had mismanaged the wealthy lender’s money.

In lieu of this the manager sought, while time was still on his side, to secure for himself a soft landing upon being fired. He realized he was not strong enough to do manual labor (dig) and too proud to beg.

So he went to various people who were in debt to the wealthy lender and forgave portions of their debt. For example, one man owed nine hundred gallons of olive oil and the manager told him to make his bill out for only four hundred gallons.

The wealthy lender became aware of this and responded to the money manager in a positive way. He told him that though he was unrighteous he had been shrewd and the parable says that the manager was “commended”. This is the end of the parable itself, but what follows is what reveals what we are to learn and the simplicity of the parable.
Luke 16: 1-15 (NIV)
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.
Understanding the Parable by way of Jesus’ Commentary

Too often people will immediately ask:

How can the wealthy lender commend dishonesty? 
Does God commend dishonesty?

Of course the immediate and obvious answer is no, God does not commend dishonesty but more importantly, the wealthy lender is not representative of God. And this is where many fail to grasp the meaning and fall off track. This isn’t a lesson about how God deals with dishonest but shrewd Christians. There is a point about shrewdness but it isn’t here.

Who are the People in the Parable?

Look at what is being said, later in verse 8, by our Lord and you will understand:
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 
How does he describe the people in the parable? As “the people of this world”. The people in the parable are not representative of believers or of God. They are merely just what they are, people of this world. There is no representation of someone else.

What is Jesus Teaching Us about People of the World?

Sometimes those who do not belong to God’s Kingdom, children of this world, are used to illustrate something from which we can learn. Here, Jesus does this very thing. He uses the carnal or sinful shrewdness of the unsaved and darkened heart that has sense enough to care for his welfare on earth to point us to the wisdom of using spiritual shrewdness to care for the welfare of our eternal condition. Look at verse 9:
I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Our Lord is teaching us that unlike the people of the world, who use their wealth for themselves and their temporal welfare, we still have wealth and it is to be used for something, not ignorantly or foolishly but shrewdly or wisely and for quite practical reasons. And that practical reasons is our investment is into the lives of God’s people, our spiritual family. These are those with whom we will spend eternity. 

While in heaven all sin will be removed and any dissatisfaction with others, the Bible never teaches that those blessings, even basic blessings of giving to others, will not be remembered in eternity. In fact, I suspect not only will they be cherished but just as our Lord says, they will be motivating factors of those in heaven already who will be rejoicing at our arrival. You are investing into eternity, my friend, when we use your worldly wealth for the needs of God’s eternal Kingdom and namely that of his children.

How we are to Manage our Wealth

As I said earlier, this parable, while enough people do receive with clarity, too many, on the other hand, over complicate and obfuscate the lesson. It isn’t necessary. In fact it is one of the most practical and basic of all the parables and its modesty is revealed by the closing comments of our Lord in verses 10-13:
10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” 
This does not say we cannot be monetarily wealthy, nor does it state we cannot invest our money and make it grow. It does not need to say that. It is teaching something which comes before such decisions, it is teaching our fundamental attitude toward wealth and its purpose and ultimately faces us with some decision making, either loving God or money but never both.

Your shrewdness is not toward gain in the world; rather it is toward gain in the next world. While all of God’s children inherit eternal life with some basic eternal blessings, the fact is there is the Bema Seat where rewards for faithfulness are handed out for eternity by our Lord Jesus.

And our Lord will evaluate, in light of divine protocols and standards, all of the handling of your earthly wealth and its investment toward the Kingdom of God, whether it be to God’s people individually or corporately, not to mention the investment of all of your other gifts from God, whether logistical or spiritual blessings and their use or investment. You are not to be like the money manager in dishonest shrewdness but you are to be shrewd like the money manager, this time with honesty and a divine viewpoint navigating your Christian life.

Sometimes, because we get no immediate treasure, we as Christians allow our carnal nature to communicate despair and hopelessness to our soul and forgo using our money as we should. In fact, we might even allow ourselves to get to the point of the Pharisees in verse 14 who "loved money" which resulted in them "sneering" at Jesus. And no doubt those who reject this protocol from God about money management for his children who know of our life which emphasizes investing in eternity sneer either behind our backs or to our faces. So it requires trust or faith, in the promises of God because good feelings and a positive reception on this world are not always waiting when we obey the Lord. But notice, again, his promise which is embedded in the negative in verses 11-12:
11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
The negative strongly implies the positive. That is, our Lord is saying along with the negative, something else. The implication is “but if you have been trustworthy…then you will be given”.  And what we receive in heaven is eternal, forever and never to be removed. You certainly do not want a monument of what could have been. What you want is an eternally real and alive consummation of what is. There is, even beyond the unfathomable wealth of eternal life, rewards from our Lord. You can love this world and the things of this world and its chief product, money, or you can love God. Words coming from your lips won’t really tell the true story of what is in your heart. However, the handling of your worldly wealth will.

2 comments:

Lydia said...

This is astonishingly excellent!

Alex Guggenheim said...

Thank you Lydia. Hope all is well for you.