Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?
Luke 16:10-11 (NIV)
Read: Luke 16:1-15
Consider: The parable of the shrewd manager causes many people confusion, not least because the rich man commends the dishonest manager for his actions in cheating his master.
To understand this parable we need to look at what is actually said and done, rather than what we think happens. The key to this parable is not in the manager’s dishonesty, but in his shrewdness. Additionally, the parable is a warning not to depend upon wealth which is transient, but to use money correctly to prepare for eternity.
To avoid any confusion, the parable is about an earthly master and an employee. The rich man is not God, nor is the shrewd manager us. We are not being told to act dishonestly, but to act shrewdly in utilising everything God has entrusted to us (time, talents and money).
Look again at what we are told about the rich man in verse 8. It says: ‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly’. The rich man did not ignore the manager’s dishonesty, that was the initial reason the manager was losing his job. Having fired him, the rich man knew the manager was dishonest and the manager’s dealings with his creditors only reinforced what he already knew – the manager could not be trusted. What came as a surprise to the rich man was that the manager acted shrewdly, something he hadn’t seen in his handling of his affairs during his employment. If the manager had used his shrewdness in dealing with his master’s affairs, it is unlikely that he would have lost his job.
Another confusion in this parable is what is said in verse 9: ‘I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings’. The Greek word translated as ‘when it is gone’ can also mean ‘when you are gone’, in other words ‘when you die’. Linking this to eternal dwellings, rather than earthly dwellings (as did the dishonest manager), is pointing us to eternity, reminding us to use money in a way that glorifies God. This links to other parts of scripture where we are told to lay up treasure in heaven.
Now we come to the crux of this parable, which is about the comparison between worldly wealth and true riches. If we can’t be trusted to use worldly wealth in the way God wants us to, how can he trust us with true riches – people’s spiritual welfare? Everything God has entrusted to us in this life can be seen as a test to see how we deal with our master’s affairs.
We know that we are meant to see the spiritual emphasis in the parable because it ends with: ‘The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus’. Look at Jesus’s response to them: ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts’ (16:15). God looks at us inwardly and knows whether we can be trusted or not. The picture we present to the world doesn’t convince God of our standing with him, he looks into our hearts and sees the real person.
Jesus’ final words to the Pharisees (and his disciples) are: ‘What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight’ (16:15). So we can conclude that God does not value dishonesty, nor shrewdness in manipulating things. What he does value is honesty and shrewdness in using his gifts, not for earthly gain, but for eternity.
Pray: Father, help us to be shrewd in this world in ways that use the resources and gifts you have given us for eternal purposes. Amen