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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 is often the source of confusion and misinterpretation. In modern bibles, where the text is broken down into smaller chunks and given sub-headings, this parable is often described as the parable of the shrewd, or dishonest, manager. Then, with that heading in our minds, we find ourselves reading a passage that seems to praise a manager for handling his master’s affairs in an underhand and self-serving way. But, is that what we are really seeing? Is this really the message we should be taking away from today’s reading?
In Jewish law, it is not lawful for anyone to profit from others through the charging of high interest rates. It is clear that the rich man was doing just this. If this were not the case, the ‘shrewd’ or ‘dishonest’ manager would not have been able to offer such substantial discounts without rendering his master’s business untenable. When put in this context, the manager described as ‘shrewd’ or ‘dishonest’ is doing his master a great service; he is providing him with a way back from his previously exploitative way of doing business.
So often, we behave in ways that distance us from God’s law. We exploit both people and situations in the hope of enriching ourselves. We show a cavalier disregard for the needs and feelings of others, as long as nothing impinges upon or undermines our mental and physical well-being. So often, we are in need of a ‘shrewd’ manager who will help us find the way back into God’s sheepfold.
For those of us who are facing such moments there is, of course, just such a ‘shrewd’ manager: Jesus Christ himself. Jesus never ceases to journey alongside us, nudging us towards the straight and narrow path that will keep us close to God. The actual renegotiation of our mistakes is down to us, but Jesus is always there to offer guidance, help and support. We just have to open our ears, our hearts and our minds in order that Jesus’ wisdom might shine through in our lives.
Let us pray that we might remain true to God’s law as we honour and love others in his name. Let us pray that we might be ever attentive to the teachings and the support of Jesus Christ in our lives. Let us pray that we might, in our turn, be shrewd in the way we help others journey through their earthly lives.