The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

Written by Joel on September 21st, 2010

Sept 19, 2010
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 16:1-13

Can you believe, I forgot to press record! I am going to have this new audio set up figured out some day. Meanwhile here are my notes:

We are dependent on grace.

Have you ever been fired from a job? Called into your boss’ office, sat down and fired. Could you imagine, especially how bleak the job market is today? It is completely terrifying. So, what would you do if you were fired? Head for the unemployment office, look for another job? Would you think up a scheme like the manager did?

This is a difficult text. Some preachers have said that this is the most difficult parable of all of Jesus’ parables. Jesus seemingly condones dishonesty in dealings with money! He says what the dishonest manager did was great!

It might be helpful if we understand the story of the parable in the first place. There was a rich man, who was probably a land owner and in this case it seems he owns farm land which is rented out. The manager runs the operation, collecting fees, perhaps finding renters and making sure the bills are paid. It came to the attention of the owner that the manager wasn’t doing a very good job. In fact, he was squandering the owners wealth. So the owner called the manager in, sat him down and fired him. And it seems he gave him till the end of the day. Now, this was a great act of grace in the first place. The owner could have thrown him in jail right then and there, but he only fired him.

The manager was still at his job and decided to bet it all on his manager’s grace. He had one more day to work as the manager, as the owner’s agent. So he calls in all of the debtors or renters and cooks the books. He lowers the debt of all of these people. Imagine if you were renting and the manager called and said that they were going to drop your rent by half for the whole next year! What a great gift. You would think pretty highly of the landlord. That’s what happened. The landlord had no idea this was going on, that his debts were being forgiven. I can imagine the landlord walking around the market square and having his debtors running up to him thanking him, maybe baking him a pie in thanksgiving of his grace (that he didn’t offer in the first place).

The owner had a choice to make. He could expose the manager as dishonest, send him off immediately (perhaps to jail), and re-institute the debts that were forgiven. But could you imagine the protest on his hands from his debtors? Or, he could take the credit for this gracious gesture to his debtors and be loved by them.  I think he went with door number 2. The manager’s bet paid off; he was dependent on grace.

This parable is closely connected with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It immediately follows it. Often we put the three “Lost” parables together: Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son. But these two (Son, and Manager) have a lot in common because the deal with people instead of sheep and coins. The word for the initial action that got them in trouble in the first place is squandered. The son squandered the father’s wealth, the manager squandered the owner’s wealth. They both get into a difficult situation, facing utter despair. They come up with a plan which is dependent on the grace of their superior; the son on the father and the manager on the owner. That is why I believe that this parable is not so much about money as it is about grace and forgiveness.

The manager forgave. He recognized that money was what was between him and the debtors (or renters). His hope was that if he forgave the debt they would owe him and offer him a job when he came to be unemployed. But that opportunity would not be present so long as money came between them. Forgiveness was key – he would not find comfort in material wealth, his commissions or something else; and money would come between him and the debtors. He realized that relationships were the true riches attained.

Lord’s Prayer forgiveness. At Saint Luke’s we use “debts” instead of “trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer; and so does Luke’s version of the prayer our savior taught us. It is exactly how it sounds; the forgiveness of monetary debts – because so often that is what comes between us as people.

Giving what is not ours to give. We are a church of forgiveness; shrewdly giving away what is not ours to give; the forgiveness of our Lord and our God. And some may view it as squandering forgiveness; some view it unfairly. But we are charged as the church to pour out abundant grace on others.

Teresa Lewis is scheduled to be executed this Thursday after being convicted of murder. According to the law in the Pentateuch a life is owed for a life which is taken. Yes, she owes a life. There are certainly heated opinions on the death penalty. Just are there were opinions on the grace Christ offered to the people in his day, the grace Christ offers us though we don’t deserve it. We, as the church, call for grace upon Teresa Lewis though she (like us) don’t deserve it. We call for grace upon here in a scandalous, squandering kind of way. We call for grace because we are also dependent on grace.


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