Spreading generosity

Here’s a story that Jesus told. Most people don’t like it, or they think it doesn’t make sense. A few people have questioned whether it even belongs in the Bible because it sounds like Jesus is praising a dishonest manager. Actually, I think he is:

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 my 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 acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd than the children of light. (Luke 16:1-8)

In his book, “Tell It Slant,” Eugene Peterson has an intriguing take on this story. The rich man, he points out, was actually pretty generous with the embezzling manager. He didn’t put him in jail, didn’t bring him to court and demand his money back…just fired him. Perhaps, Peterson suggests, the manager in the story is relying on that very generosity when he goes quickly to those in debt before they suspect he is not working for the manager and lowers the amount they owe. That makes him, the manager, look good (a big plus, since he might find a job with one of these debtors now that he needs one); but it also makes the rich man look very generous in the community. When the rich man finds out what the manager has done, he has to decide: will he confront the debtors with the truth that they still owe money (which will not make them happy, least of all with the rich man himself), or will he act the generous part that the manager has set up, a part which the rich man has already shown toward the dishonest manager. The gamble of the dishonest manager pays off. Thanks, Eugene.

Driving to church tonight it hit me: what if we “children of the light” were to show generosity and grace as freely as the dishonest manager did to others. Is that what Jesus was getting at? (So I don’t like the idea of being compared to the dishonest manager? Well, when was the last time I “squandered” God’s gifts? Hmmm…if it is put it that way…) And aren’t we all dishonest debtors to a rich God? How wonderful if we were to practice the generosity, the grace and forgiveness to others that God has shown us in Jesus Christ. Yes, if only the children of light were that quick and creative in spreading God’s generosity!

I don’t know if that’s the point Jesus was making, but I think I’ll hang my coat on that for a while.