Now He was also saying to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 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; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And 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?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.
I have always found this parable hard to understand. At first read, it describes a man who has been wasting his employer’s money. He has been unfaithful in his responsibilities and has been found out. He has received the pink slip, so to speak, and in a very short time will be out on the street without a job. So, while he still has the authority, he makes friends with the people he has been doing business with by reducing the debt they owe his employer, hoping that they will think kindly of him and do him favors when he’s out of a job.
That scenario doesn’t sound strange to me; in fact, it reads exactly like what our culture would dictate we should do when we’ve been “caught out” for irresponsibility. But the surprising response of the employer and Jesus’ cryptic words at the end always confused me.
Why would the master praise his unrighteous manager for acting shrewdly and giving away his resources? And why does Jesus tell us to “make friends by means of the wealth of unrighteousness?”
To understand what Jesus is teaching we have to step back and look at the big picture. What is the context of the parable of the unrighteous steward? Just prior, Jesus has told the parable of the prodigal son who wasted his father’s inheritance but repented and was received back by grace. Just after we read about the rich man and Lazarus, and their experiences after death.
Jesus is teaching us about how to manage our earthly treasures, the physical, financial blessings He has provided for us to steward during our lifetime, and this unusual parable sandwiched between two familiar ones is just as important to our understanding.
Let’s look at what the parable represents, and what it really teaches.
The master – always represents our Heavenly Father.
The manager – represents the believer.
The wealth of unrighteousness, or mammon – our money (our physical treasure)
While we are here on earth, God gives us financial and physical resources to manage on His behalf.
Your paycheck does not belong to you; it belongs to God.
Your home does not belong to you; it belongs to God.
The bed you sleep in, the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the car you drive … all of it belongs to God. If you think you “earned” or “deserve” it, you do not understand that as a believer, you belong to God.
As the manager in the parable illustrates, God expects us to manage these blessings to increase His kingdom. We are to bless the children of the kingdom and expand the kingdom. We are unfaithful when we use our treasure for selfish gain, as the unrighteous manager did. We can conclude by his actions of reducing debt when he was in trouble, that he had been over-charging (stealing) from his business associates. He had been using the master’s resources for his own personal gain, and when faced with the end of his time of employment, he knew he’d better make things right.
Our time of stewardship has an end date too, and this is what Jesus refers to in His cryptic comments at the end of the parable: Make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. In other words, use the blessings that God has entrusted to you to bless others, and when you die, they will welcome you into heaven.
Jesus’ words convict us, in that He says the world does a better job of making good use of its money and resources than we do (verse 8). If ungodly, unbelieving people can do good things with their resources, how much more should we be conscious of being good stewards for kingdom work?
One final thought. If you continue reading after the parable, you get to the real meaning of what Jesus is driving home to us.
“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? 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? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:10-13)
Jesus is telling us that we illustrate our potential for spiritual blessings by how we use our physical blessings. If God can’t trust us with our paycheck, how can He trust us with spiritual blessings? If we want to experience all that God has for us, we must keep our eyes firmly fixed on Him. Our devotion is to Jesus, not to anything this world offers. If we are pursuing the “good things” in life more than we are pursuing knowing Jesus, our priorities are wrong. Eventually, those “good things” of the world will consume our heart, and we will find ourselves, like the unrighteous steward, standing before the Master calling us to account.
How do we take this lesson and make it practical?
We can sit down and take inventory of how we spend the money that God has entrusted us to manage. How much do we spend on our own comfort and pleasure? How much do we give away to kingdom work? Do we use our homes as only our sanctuary, or do we use them as a place for kingdom affairs? How much stuff do we need, and how can we use it to bless others?
The answer is not in the numbers or the percentages; God’s resources are limitless and He determines how much “treasure” we get to manage. Those who have “little” are just as responsible as those who have “much.”
The answer is in our heart attitude of realizing it all belongs to Him, and we are simply managing it while we live on this earth. It’s listening to His Spirit when He prompts us to give, to share, and to bless, and to take every opportunity to grow the kingdom with the Master’s treasure.
Aren’t you thankful for Jesus’ winsome ways of reminding us what is truly important? And don’t miss the message of grace. We have all been the “bad” manager at times, but the Master gives us the rest of our life to change our ways and set our priorities right. We can start today.