16 Jesus told this story to his disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs. One day a report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money. 2 So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Get your report in order, because you are going to be fired.’
3 The manager thought to himself, ‘Now what? My boss has fired me. I don’t have the strength to dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. 4 Ah, I know how to ensure that I’ll have plenty of friends who will give me a home when I am fired.’
5 So he invited each person who owed money to his employer to come and discuss the situation. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe him?’ 6 The man replied, ‘I owe him 800 gallons of olive oil.’ So the manager told him, ‘Take the bill and quickly change it to 400 gallons.’
7 ‘And how much do you owe my employer?’ he asked the next man. ‘I owe him 1,000 bushels of wheat,’ was the reply. ‘Here,’ the manager said, ‘take the bill and change it to 800 bushels.’
8 The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. 9 Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.
10 If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. 11 And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? 12 And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?
13 No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
14 The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him. 15 Then he said to them, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God.
16 Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in. 17 But that doesn’t mean that the law has lost its force. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest point of God’s law to be overturned. 18 For example, a man who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery. And anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
What is going on in this story? Is Jesus advocating immoral behavior? This is one of the most confusing and discussed parables in all the Gospels, so don’t feel bad if you scratched your head while reading it. Passages like this make some scholars go bald.
But at least a few things are clear, so let’s focus on those. First, this comes right after the three stories of people finding lost things. In the first two, the shepherd and woman worked hard to find what was lost. In the third, the father showed passionate compassion on his returning son. Those stories were directed to the Pharisees. Here, Jesus turns and addresses his disciples, giving them a more positive teaching to complement what they had heard him tell the Pharisees. Disciples are to be engaged in finding lost people and that task requires all the hard work, passion, compassion, and cleverness we can muster. That is one basic message here. Disciples aren’t always as savvy as non-disciples, but we should be. Our art should be as good as theirs. Our engagement with culture should be second to none. We should employ the full measure of our mental capabilities, the full breadth of our imaginations, and the highest level of skillfulness. Doing crappy art and slapping a Christian label on it is not okay. A big problem with the ‘Christian marketplace’ is an attitude of ‘that’s good enough.’ It works in that such c-artists are able to sell within the confines of that closed market. But their art cannot compete in the wider marketplace because it is not very good. Jesus is encouraging his disciples not to settle for this, but to make good art.
The other thing that is clear in this story is that possessions should be used to foster relationships. I experienced this first hand just yesterday. I was on the receiving end of some much needed generosity. I was blessed and the giver was blessed to know he had heard correctly from the Lord about our need (which was immediate). And we had a lovely meal and a few hours of wonderful conversation. Sharing possessions creates a bond between people that cannot be created any other way. I gave some clothes to another church last year and some months later I was hanging out at that church and saw a guy wearing a shirt very similar to one I owned. I was writing my dissertation at the time and was appropriately scatter brained. I thought to myself, ‘hey, I’ve got a shirt like that.’ Later, on the way home, I realized it was my shirt, one I had donated. Almost a year later, I still think about and pray for that man. That shirt, that little thing as Jesus called possessions, created a bond between us that sticks. As scatter brained as I get, I still remember his face and this story and to pray for him. I hope he prays for me too.
All followers of Jesus should do the best work they can possibly do and they should use their earthly possessions to create relationships that are eternal.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.