Luke 16:1-9, ESV
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’
“And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management 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 removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’”
“So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures[a] of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures[b] of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”
“The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world[c] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth,[d] so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
This one’s a challenge. I’ve wrestled off and on with this passage for 40 years, and until just lately have I’ve gotten an idea, (maybe) of what this parable is about. (If I’m off the wall, please let me know.) I must say, first of all, that the dishonest manager’s trickery is never endorsed by Jesus. The man is a thief and a scoundrel. He has embezzled his master’s money, and betrayed his trust. That’s a bad thing.
But yet there is something worth emulating about his conduct.
He’s a genuine businessman–focused and direct. He’s always got a plan, he’s always thinking ahead. He has a definite direction. There’s a purpose and a direct idea–a focus, and that sets him apart from others. Jesus makes an observation to his disciples. It’s the key to this parable. Notice what I’ve highlighted:
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.”
Luke 16:8-9, Message
A sailor will tell you that the hardest boat to steer is one that is dead in the water. Perfectly still it can’t be directed. It has to be moving. I wonder sometimes if some of Jesus’ disciples are too passive. They’ve repented and experienced God’s grace; they are definitely saved and going to heaven. That’s wonderful. But they’re just stalled after that. They have become passive and unfocused. They seem to float and drift and take whatever current that moves them along.
That “dead in the water” passivity isn’t what Jesus is looking for. This parable stresses the need to be aware, alert and always “looking for angles.” People like this have an edge about them, they’re like the salesman in a leisure suit– they’re always focused on their next “lucrative” move. They’re the “hustlers” of the Christian walk!
Jesus made an observation about that same sort of intensity in the ministry of John the Baptist:
“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.”
There needs to be a holy violence, it seems, something that’s pressing–something we’re striving for. Paul understood this also:
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 3:14, KJV
Jesus is making it quite clear that a passive walk is contrary to true discipleship. There must be movement towards a goal. We can’t just float through a nice, quiet Christian life. There needs to be a zeal and a holy direction. Yes, we need to wait, and listen! Being still and quiet before him is critical. But we can’t lose our direction and focus. It seems we must be forceful.
I believe that this parable reveals to us that a holy zeal is needed. The dishonest manager was a rascal and a cheat. But yet there was something that Jesus approved of, a directed zeal for that which we should have. Perhaps we’ve gotten a bit lax–floating through our salvation without any direction.
We definitely need to be people who love, and who are controlled by the Spirit. But we also need to be a people who press into the things of God. We need a directed zeal and definite purpose. Being a passive believer isn’t an option, and it doesn’t please God. We need to become believers who are always looking at God’s glory, and are moving toward it with a holy zeal, and a specific purpose.
“Men could be content to have the kingdom of Heaven; but they are loathe to fight for it. They choose rather to go in a feather bed to Hell than to be carried to Heaven in a ‘fiery chariot’ of zeal and violence.”
Art by Eugène Burnand