Craziness!

This story that Jesus tells here is craziness, just craziness!

There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought against him that this man was squandering his property.  So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.”

Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do now that the master is taking the position 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 dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.”

So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?”  

He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.”

He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.”

Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?”

He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.”

He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.”

And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.  And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest (worldly) wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.  (Luke 16: 1-9)

Craziness!  Shenanigans!  Dishonest manager caught and served notice.  Before he’s axed, he gets in good with customers by means of his boss’s money.  The owner, while terminating the manager’s position, commends him for being shrewd.  Is this story supposed to be a life lesson for Jesus’ disciples?  Or tongue in cheek maybe—as in “It wouldn’t hurt you disciples to be a little more street-wise”?  Or is it a case of a playful Jesus chuckling over the puzzled faces of disciples as in, “Come on, guys, lighten up. We’re on our last trip to Jerusalem, after all.”

One of my colleagues noted that parables are designed to provoke conversation.  And in his follow-up remarks, Luke, the one who wrote down Jesus telling this story, seemed to think Jesus was trying to provoke conversation about how disciples were to use money.  As opposed to being dishonest with money (verse 10).  As opposed to how the Pharisees loved money (verse 14).  As opposed to how we can’t serve God and wealth at the same time (verse 13).

But I didn’t get anywhere in puzzling this story through by assuming that the disciples were being contrasted to act differently than the dishonest manager.  So I asked a different question of the story: How are the disciples and the dishonest manager suppose to be similar?  Let’s rephrase it and get personal: How am I similar to the dishonest manager?

Bingo! The story suddenly opens up.  Let me count the ways.  Seriously.

1. Both the manager and myself each serve a master who, for all intents and purposes here, owns everything. The manager served, used, lent and collected his rich master’s property, not his own.  I am not the owner of what I “own” either.  It’s all God’s.  Everything.  My calling is to be a steward of everything–even “dishonest,”worldly money.

2. Both the manager and myself squander what’s given us to manage. Polluting the environment.  Wasting time.  Purchasing what I don’t need. (“I “give” some to God, but the rest is mine to do with as I want.)

3. Just like the manager, my earthly job of being a manager/disciple for Christ will end—when I die, of course.  If asked to give an account of what God entrusted to me, will I have invested in the kingdom of heaven/eternal home priorities (as in “treasure in heaven,” Luke 12:32-24)?

4. For all the wrong reasons, the dishonest manager at the last hour participated in the gospel of Luke’s great reversal of being generous to the poor, lightening the burden of debt, and sharing.  I may not to be generous out of expediency because of impending job loss, but how am I generous and creatively resourceful with the money/wealth I manage because I am a follower of Christ?

5.  Similarly the dishonest manager, when in a bind, made establishing new relationships a priority.  As a follower of Jesus, does the generosity and resourceful sharing of gifts (including sharing the good news of Christ) establish  new relationships, inviting them into the community of Christ?  Do people come to faith and become brothers and sisters because of  my willingness to be involved in their lives?

Hmmmm.  Jesus’ story is not craziness.  It’s ingenious!  It has quite cleverly hooked me and is slowly reeling me in.