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The Parable of the Dishonest Manager
Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.’
Today’s reading gives rise to so many questions about the probity of how we deal with matters of this world. Is Jesus really encouraging us to indulge in sharp practice in order that we might ultimately buy our way into heaven? Is Jesus placing the shrewdness of the skilful trader above that of honesty and good faith? Is the master in this story meant to be Jesus, or is there some confusion because we do not fully comprehend the situation that is being presented in this parable?
In order that we might make some sense of today’s reading we need to look at it from a different perspective. Because so many bibles now help us with paragraph headings, and today’s focuses on the ‘Dishonest Manager’, we find ourselves focusing on the manager, rather than on the rich man. I would suggest that the actions of the manager, and the subsequent reaction of the rich man shows us that we should ask some basic questions before we jump to unfortunate conclusions.
Jewish law strictly forbids the making of excessive profits out of the lending of money or any other commodities, such as oil and wheat. The level of discount offered by the manager, in order that he might make future friends and supporters, suggests that the rich man was breaking this fundamental Jewish law of how business should be conducted. The rich man commended his manager for his business acumen, obviously considering himself to still be in profit. When viewed this way round, we can identify the ‘dishonest’ manager as the one who saves the rich man from his tendency to exploit others through the sin of greed.
Let us pray that we might not only act in a spirit of selfless generosity and love, but that we might lead others into the same way. Let us pray that we might not exploit those with whom we journey through this life, but that we might seek out the way to support and nurture them in the faith that is rooted in the love and service of our Lord Jesus Christ.