What Does the Parable of the Shrewd Manager Really Mean?

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16:1-15 is not easy to understand.  A rich man discovered that his money manager was being wasteful with his resources.  He told the money manager that his job was in jeopardy, and he demanded accountability. 

In order to protect his own future, the money manager immediately began networking.  He began doing favors for the people who owed money to the rich man.  He “cooked the books” of the rich man’s accounting ledgers by slashing the debt that each of these men owed the rich man by 20% to 50%.  This, made each of these debtors delighted with the steward, but we would think that the rich man would not have been so delighted. 

However, the rich man surprises us by commending the unjust money manager for acting wisely.  When he realized that he was about to be dismissed, he “shrewdly” did something about it by ensuring that he would have friends to welcome him after he was fired. 

Furthermore, Christ makes an even more surprising statement in verse 9, “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” 

It is difficult to justify this statement, and many people have tried with various explanations such as, we should: 

   1) Help others with our money and influence. 
   2) Assume responsibility, quickly and decisively. 
   3) Remain alert and energetic. 
   4) Understand that death is certain, and prepare for eternity. 

The first three of these sound a bit fluffy, but the fourth one (offered by Falwell) comes closest to explaining Christ’s worldly-sounding words.  Each of us needs to be ready for eternity, although not (as some have suggested) by simply lightening the burden of sin through good deeds. 

Christ is telling us to expend our material possessions by giving them all away to others.  The recipients will consequently become our friends because of what we’ve done for them, even though this wasn’t our primary objective.  Then, when our wealth is gone, we have demonstrated that we are true believers who are ready for eternity.  We have used everything in this life in order to imitate Christ’s love for others by giving away the things that are so precious to most people. 

This was also Christ’s message in Luke 18:22, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  Furthermore, this message is confirmed in Luke 16:10-14 where Christ tells us that we will be rewarded for being trustworthy.  We can’t serve both God and money. 

Christ isn’t commending dishonesty.  He clearly states that the money manager’s actions were unjust and sinful.  However, Jesus does commend the shrewdness of the dishonest manager, although not the dishonesty of the shrewd manager.

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