To be honest, I have not been looking forward to commenting on these verses (Luke 16.1-13). The reason is simply because I don’t understand them that well. I mean, we have a master commending a dishonest servant. What’s up with that? Verse 1 says he spoke it to his disciples. Jesus, how does this apply to me, a disciple? For all intents and purposes, this manager stole from his master; that’s what he did when he sat down with the debtors and told them to reduce their bills. He is commended for this offense.
Chapter 15 was aimed straight for the Pharisees (see 15.1); Jesus was combating their grumblings. Chapter 16 opens as an address to His disciples (v.1). There is some lesson in this that Jesus wants his disciples to glean. To be sure, the Pharisees are still listening. In fact, based on what Jesus says, they will ridicule him in v.14. But the lesson in this is leveled straight at the disciple.
Jesus introduces us to the two main characters in this parable: a rich man (also the master later in the story) and the manager (that is, one was usually hired who had rule over a man’s estate). This manager was accused of wasting (the same word used as for the younger son of Luke 15.13 when he “squandered” his possessions) his master’s goods. Was he actually wasting his master’s possessions? Judging by the fact that he is called “dishonest” in v.8, one might conclude that (although he could be called dishonest for decreasing the bills of these debtors). Also, you factor in his reaction to the news and his shrewd actions; I don’t think an innocent man would have acted like this. Nevertheless, charges are leveled and this man begins to think, “Now, how I am I going to come of this.” He is forced to give an account for his actions, something that no doubt will reveal the charges are true. Now what?
He runs through some options: can I dig? No, I haven’t the strength. Will I beg? No, I am too ashamed to reduce myself like that. What’s a dishonest manager to do? He devises a shrewd scheme that will enable him to be received people’s homes once he is fully terminated from his position. He calls in his master’s debtors, one-by-one. One owes “one hundred measures of oil,” which is about 875 gallons (according to the ESV footnote). This is a serious sum he owes the master. The manager cuts the debt in half; what generosity! Another owed 100 measures of wheat, which is somewhere between 1000 and 1200 bushels. The manager tells this man to decrease his debt by 20%, now he owes only 80 measures. Again, how gracious! Note this: this manager has the authority, as the fiscal agent over the master’s house, to make these changes.
Now we get to the sticky part. In verse 8, we find that “the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” Again, why is he dishonest? Because he was wasting his possessions or because he had acted in such a manner with the debtors? I suppose both are acceptable answers. But I would lean toward the former. While it may not have been a good move for the master when the manager decreased the debt of the debtors and it was a shrewd move, he did nothing illegal. But as for the commendation (or praise) from the master to the dishonest manager, it should be noted that the master does not praise his dishonesty; he praises his “shrewdness” or prudence. In short, this manager acted wisely.
Here is the dilema of the master now: should he restore the debts back to their original amounts, which he certainly is able to do as the master, he will be seen as an oppresive man, a hard man. If he fires the dishonest manager, who graciously acted toward the debtors, again he is seen as the bad guy. Faced with this crisis, the master acts prudently as well (so it would seem) in praising his dishonest manager for his wise move. Whether he likes it or not, the master is stuck in a tough situation, perhaps in the same vein the manager found himself in earlier when faced with termination.
Jesus uses this parable to make his point (v.8b-13). The lesson is that disciples are to act shrewdly too. This story illustrates this principle. The sons of the world act shrewdly with one another, as is seen with the dishonest (lit. unrighteous) manager and his master. How much more should the children of light act prudently with one another! But Jesus gets very specific as to what a disciple is to do. Be prudent, wise in the use of your wealth. Use it to make friends for yourselves. Money has no inherent character; it derives its character from those who possess it. If good people have money, it is good; if bad people have money, it is bad. And Jesus is telling is make sure your money has good character. Use it wisely for the kingdom of God. Money is sure to fail; but the eternal dwelling of God is forever. Jesus says “they” will receive you into the eternal dwellings (see John 14.2 and “rooms”). Who are “they”? Some say the friends made by the wise use of your wealth. Others say that the use of “they” is a way of refering to the trinity without invoking the sacred name. Nevertheless, the use of your wealth now apparently is tied to your eternal destination. So be wise.
Jesus continues his teaching over money in v.10. Here is another principle about the use of wealth. Your stewardship is either a faithful one or a dishonest (lit. unrighteous) one. Said another way, the use of our wealth is a test from God. If we are faithful with little, we will be faithful in much. If dishonest with little…God wants to know if we can be trusted with wealth. Too many prove to be foolish in their use of wealth, squandering it away. Hmm, have wee run across that concept before? The younger son squandered his wealth and he wound up in the pig pen. Today, many waste their possesssions on junk and end up a pig pen as well: the pig pen of debt. How then can God entrust the true riches to you? (v.11) Some say this heaven itself. It may also be blessings in general, both physical and spiritual. Don’t be surprised because God shuts the doors of his storehouse when you have proven faithless in your use of wealth.
We have seen this concept before in Luke (12.21). In fact, throughout God’s word are admonitions against wasting your money. The reason God doesn’t like this wasteful spending is because earthly wealth is God’s. Verse 12 speaks to this: implied in this verse is that earthly wealth is “another’s” which is God. He controls all the wealth in the world. “The cattle on a thousand hills are his” says the Psalmist. Then why do we treat money like it is “ours.” Ours is something greater, something prepared by the Lord. A dwelling place in the house of God (see John 14.1-4).
One more lesson from this section is in v.13: we cannot allow the love of money to rule our hearts. The Pharisees had this problem (v.14) and God was upset about it. Their hearts were not right with God. No, we must free from the love of money. To do this, we need to keep money in the right perspective: it is God’s, he has given us the sacred stewardship of dispensing it for the kingdom, and it is a test of our faithfulness. Instead of money, Christ, God should be on the throne, ruling our hearts and lives. And when Christ is on the throne of our hearts, he will help us to keep money in its proper place. To use money selfishly is to put money on the throne; it rules our life, not God. No, use money wisely, helping others, especially our brothers, to learn about God and his kingdom.