The parable of the shrewd manager is an interesting parable to say the least. It seems like a parable we can follow but then it has a surprising ending with the type of language we are not used to hearing from Jesus. This parable has many levels of interpretation that all point to one common interest. What is that interest? Let’s discover it by unpacking the meaning and significance of the parable.
Here is the parable in its entirety in Luke 16 and then we can unpack once we have read through it.
Now that we have read through the parable, what is the meaning of this parable? Why did Jesus tell this parable in the first place. Well, there are many things to note in this parable and we will highlight the main points that lead us to the whole point. The manager was essentially fired in the beginning of the parable. The manager was accused of wasting the master’s possessions but we’re not really sure what led up to the firing except this accusation. Whatever the case may be, the manager was fired. He lost his job, his income, his way of living. All of a sudden, the manager was left with a decision to make. What was he going to do next? He was faced with a major decision that could impact positively or negatively the life that he was going to live. He was faced with a decision to make and he had to act fast.
The decision he made can be put under scrutiny depending on who you ask. Was he wrong for minimizing the debts owed to his former master or was he right in making sure he had good relations after he was fired? Did it all depend on the situation he found himself in? These questions can be answered by looking at the context of the parable and realizing the big picture of Jesus’ parable.
The decision the manager made could have ended really negatively for him. The master could have become extremely angry at what the manager did and thus ruined his chances of ever gaining a life for himself. What we see however, is that the master commended the manager because he had acted so shrewdly. Jesus also calls him the “dishonest” manager so we know that what he did was not honest, but it is the “why” that matters here.
Jesus then says to “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (v.9). What Jesus is saying here is that we must realize people are more important than money. The manager knew that relationships would matter more than money if he was going to make a life for himself. So he used the opportunity to value relationships over money.
This is how people of the kingdom of God act towards one another. We have been given money as a blessing from God. Instead of valuing it over people, we should use it for the benefit of others. It is a way of being part of the kingdom, by giving to others. Jesus reminds us that the money will be gone someday, but we will continue on and it will matter then what we valued more now.
The ultimate conversation Jesus has leads to the idea of money. Jesus goes into a teaching of trust and blessing. If we can be trusted to share wealth, we will be given wealth. If we cannot handle worldly wealth, we won’t be able to handle the true riches of the kingdom and thus not be able to share in those riches. Money can be a master over us. We must decide who the master will be, God or money? (Hebrews 13:5, 1 Timothy 6:10)
BibleProject has some interesting insight that we can look at in light of this parable:
“In Jesus’ mind, relationships are more important than money and should be served by money rather than the other way around. This is why the master praises the manager—not because he stole his money, but because the manager didn’t allow money to distract him from the greater goal of relationships. This is how Jesus views money and calls his followers to view it. This parable forces the listener to decide what it is they trust.
Tim points out that the rich man forces a choice. Whether we live for Jesus and his Kingdom forces a moment of decision on us. Will we trust that Jesus is more trustworthy than all the economic structures around us? If those who don’t know Jesus cheat one another because they know the value of relationships over money, then how much more should we use the money God has freely given us by God for the benefit of others?” (Finding Meaning in the Parables Podcast)
The parable of the shrewd manager is one of intrigue, decision, and wealth. We need to take a deep look at ourselves and discover the true desires of our hearts. Do we value relationships over money? The answer will determine where our heart is and the parable will guide us in the direction we need to go.