1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 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.
10 “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. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” 14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. Luke 16:1-15
Did Jesus really just say that? Did he really give a positive spin on a story about a man who essentially steals from his master in order to curry favor with other people and gain standing with them? Really? This is hard to stomach. In fact, it is a teaching that would rightly be classified as “difficult.”
The core of what Jesus is saying is the truth that we are to wisely use the things of this world wisely. The story that Jesus shares is not meant to be applied too literally. (For all of you who are reading this at work, God is not telling you to plot the overthrow of your company in order to benefit yourselves!) Jesus is using this man to demonstrate the shrewdness of this man. He devises a way to make people favorably disposed toward him. He uses the resources at hand, even though they are not his resources. There is something in the reaction of the owner of the business that tells us that the manager knew that this would be acceptable in his eyes. Remember, this is not a prescription for Christian living – this is a story about the astuteness of this one man.
Now, what does it mean that Jesus commends this man? First, this man uses the things of the world as tools. He is a steward, a manager. These things – namely money – are fleeting and temporary. Their usage to gain standing is entirely appropriate in the context. This is the way of the world, Jesus says. This leads us to ask about our view of money. Do we love it? Do we cling to it as if it is an end unto itself?
Second, this man leverages the things of the world in order to gain things that are more lasting. Here is the key to the understanding of this story. Jesus is calling us to use the things of this world appropriately, to use them as they are meant to be used. There is no call to worship money. There is no call to pursue it at all costs. On the contrary, God intends for all the things of creation to be used to worship and serve the Creator. (And no, this is not a lead-in to a statement like, “Therefore give all of your money to the church.”) God intends for all the resources of the world – all of them! – to be used to draw people to himself. The attitude of the church toward temporal things is important to our witness in the world. God is calling us to be shrewd with temporal things, in order that more people might receive from him the benefits and blessings that are eternal.