How Behavior Affects Belief: Three Lessons from Jesus’ “Parable of the Shrewd Manager”- Luke 16

 It’s rumored that while reading the Bible, Mark Twain once said, “It is not the parts of the Scripture that I don’t understand that bother me.  It’s the parts that I do understand.”  There are plenty of passages of Scripture that speak to us and trouble us. 

But, for me this isn’t one of them. 

If you are confused with Jesus’ words of making friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth” you are not alone.  It’s recorded that those in the early church didn’t know what to do with Jesus’ words either. 

His words, quite frankly, seem like gibberish. “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal heaven.” 

Taken at face value, Jesus is telling us to buy friends so that when the money runs out these folks will let us into heaven.

Jesus told a parable about a rich man who had a manager who was accused of wasting his boss’s possessions.  So the boss calls him and asked him, “What is this I hear of you?  Give an accounting of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.” 

This much I can understand. 

The guy has been loose with his boss’ money.  So the boss has no choice but to give a pink slip. So, the manager says to herself, “hmm.  What shall I do?  My master is taking away my job.  I’m not strong enough to do manual labor and I’m too embarrassed to go on welfare.  I know what I’ll do.  I’ll use my remaining time and some of my boss’ resources to secure my future.”  So she calls in a couple of the boss’ clients and says to them: “How much do you owe my owner?”  The first client says: “100 gallons of olive oil.”  The manager says, “Hurry up take your bill and make it for 50.”  Then to the second client, “How much do you owe my owner?”  The second one says, “One hundred containers of wheat.”  So the manager say, “Hurry up and make it 80.

The more I think about the manager, the shrewder I think he is.  Of course, he’s dishonest, but he’s pretty crafty.  He knows the pink slip is coming so he was simply insuring he would have some friends who would be indebted to him when he needs to look for work.  

And here’s the shocker: 

The part that we don’t expect Jesus to say:  Jesus concludes this parable by the having the manger’s boss praise him for acting so shrewdly.  Isn’t that kind of upsetting?  Jesus seems to be giving approval to a shady character. 

So what’s Jesus’ point? 

Well, there isn’t just one point in the text this morning, there are many.  I’m going to suggest three things this morning. 

Let’s take a look:

First, Jesus explains the use of worldly wealth.  Do you not know one of the wisest things you can do with your money is to give it away?  It’s true!  Because, as the parable suggests, through giving generous gifts, you and I will be welcomed so much more into eternal dwellings.  In a word, if you give here you’ll be welcomed there.

Just this week, I received two parcels of mail wanting me to give some of my money to them.  They are both important organizations in my life and I continue to offer financial gifts to them because I believe in the mission of the organization.  As I thought about these two organizations, the thought occurred to me that maybe we in the faith community get giving all wrong.  We come up with all kinds of reasons why we should give.  We try the business approach.  We give because we need 5% more money this year to meet our budget. 

Or, we try the flattery approach – You have the means to give more.  You are wealthier than 95% of the world’s population.  We try ego – give so that we can name the building after you.  We try greed – You will get back more than you give. 

We give all kinds of reasons for giving expect the right reason.  We give because Christ gave above all else.  Giving because we are not truly human unless we give.  Giving to keep in mind the grace of God that is alive within us.  Giving because it reflects the nature of who God is.  Certainly those are the reasons to give, but Jesus seems to have a strange way of making his point.

The dishonest steward gains friends by cooking the books.  His master commends her for dishonesty.   Jesus doesn’t even call the manager dishonest. 

He calls her “shrewd.” 

Which leads me to my second point about this parable – character.  Trustworthiness.  Let me ask you a tough question:  in whom would you trust with your money? 

I think Jesus speaks to us all when he says that the person who can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.  Watch how someone handles the little things and you’ll know how they can handle the important things in life.   Faithful with little things and faithful with the big things in life.  It’s the acid test for our true character.  All the money and financial resources you’ve been entrusted with are little compared with true riches.

Listen again to the parable: 

If you have not been trustworthy with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  That’s Jesus question to you and me and how we use earthly things tells our Lord how we use spiritual things.  Use your worldly wealth wisely.  Use it gratefully and responsibility. Your future true riches depend on it.

And that brings me to my third point about this parable.  Your service can only be singular.  Jesus said it like this:  “We cannot serve wealth and God.”  The family and friends and resources we have been entrusted with are only temporary.  God is eternal.  Don’t make the mistake of putting your trust in worldly wealth.  It will trick you and make you look the fool.  Don’t devote yourself to money because it shifts like the sand barges in the Mississippi. 

Billy Graham said it like this:  “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost; all is lost.” 

If I were to sum up this parable the lessons that Jesus is trying to teach us I would tell you this:  we live in a temporary world that has eternal consequences.  Use the wealth wisely, be faithful with the little things and the large things and be devoted only to God.  Who offers us enough grace to see us through to the end of life.  Thanks be to him. 

Amen.

 


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