The Dishonest Manager, #17

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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. 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. 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?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures[a] of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 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. 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.”

Luke 16:16

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.”

    Thomas Watson

Art by Eugène Burnand

Getting Rich, #5

Treasure!

Matthew 13:44

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

From rags to riches. We like that kind of story, the newspaper boy turned into a publisher, C.E.O. This parable, only a single verse is almost the same thing. A poor man is walking through a field and viola! He finds a treasure chest, and it’s packed full of golden coins, diamonds, and emeralds.

He looks around, and seeing no one, he re-buries it. (After all, when you accidentally discover a treasure chest, you must take certain precautions.)

A key I suppose–the word “joy.”

And that really isn’t something we really know–unless something wonderful happens to us of course. He has joy, he can’t believe it. I think he was a bit dazed by it all, and he must of walked in an unreal sort of bubble. After all, these things never really happen.

It’s sort of like finding you’ve got the winning numbers of the Lottery, and you just won $10,000,00!

It’s this kind of unreal “luck” that this guy knows what he must do. Now the owner of the field owns everything, including the chest. The finder realizes he can’t just sneak the chest off to his home–there would be too many questions. (Where did a poor guy like you get a gold coin?) His neighbors would figure it out. And besides, he would be a thief. There has to be a better way.

Suddenly he has an idea. If he sells everything he has, he probably could buy that field. And then everything that was there would be rightfully his. Selling all isn’t a problem, he knows that whatever he gives up is nothing close to the treasure in the field.

The listener (them), and the reader (us), should understand two things about the treasure that can be found by “poor” men:

  • It’s about the Bible–the promises in the scriptures are often compared to wealth, at least the spiritual kind. Psalm 119 describes finding treasure in God’s Word. What he speaks is valuable, very much so. There are hundreds of verses that bear this out, Here’s one: “Your teachings are worth more to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver” (Psalm 119:72).
  • It’s about Jesus–the Bible is constantly aware of him, and his presence is seen in every chapter and book. He’s the treasure we find, knowing him, is the most valuable thing a person can ever have (by far). “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36).

To be his disciple means we give everything else up. We sell it all to get spiritual riches. There’s a field that we find that is worth everything, and the only way we can have the treasure is by giving up everything. There really isn’t any other way.

“You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Mark 10:21, (context vv. 17-33)

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