The Parable Of The Dishonest Manager seems to show Jesus approving of dishonest and unethical business practices; but how can that possibly be?
The story centres around a man who is about to be fired for wasting his master’s property. He is not suited to physical labour and he’s too proud to become a beggar, so he devises an ingenious scheme in order to provide for his retirement. He goes around to each of his master’s creditors and he revises their bills such that they end up in his debt. His master is a religious man and doesn’t want it exposed that he was skirting the laws of usury, so for the sake of his own righteous reputation, he is forced to let the matter pass. Jesus commends the urgent scheming of the manager, saying:
“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:8–13 ESV)
Upon closer inspection, the point of this parable seems to be that a wise person understands that their season of strength, opportunity and wealth is fleeting. Sooner or later we all run out of vitality, our prospects dim and our wealth deserts us. Every person fades and eventually fails, but the wise man thinks about the future and orchestrates a plan.
A number of years ago, as part of a class I was taking on Evangelism, I participated in a survey assessing the religious beliefs of “regular” Canadian people. I went into a Tim Hortons where “regular” Canadian people hang out, and offered to buy free coffee for anyone willing to take the survey. The rules we had been given were very clear: we were to interview only – we were not to evangelize or to comment on the beliefs that people shared with us. What I discovered was quite remarkable! I interviewed a lady and her son who, like many Canadians, identified as some sort of “Christian”. They both believed in heaven and hell and they were 100% sure that everybody went somewhere when they died. I asked them what the criteria would be that would determine who went where. They were both sure that it would be the righteousness of God as expressed in the 10 Commandments. When I asked them if they could name any of the 10 Commandments, they sheepishly admitted that they could not. The lady thought that recycling and taking care of the earth might be one of them, as it had been frequently mentioned at the United Church where she occasionally attended.
These people needed to read the Parable of the Dishonest Manager!
The main point Jesus is trying to make is that a wise person sees the end approaching and MAKES AN INTELLIGENT PLAN! He takes what he knows about the Master and he makes a plan that accords with the Master’s own obligations!
If I could go back and find those two marvellously confused Canadians from Tim Hortons, I would want to tell them that God has obligated himself to his own promises. He promised that men and women could live with him forever if they obeyed his Word. Of course, none of us has done that but the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus has done that – he obeyed God perfectly! Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves, and he paid for what we did do in his body on the cross – that’s the Gospel! Jesus has kept our end of the bargain for us (perfect obedience) and now God is happy to deliver on his assumed obligations. The Bible says:
For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20 ESV)
All of the riches and blessings that God promised to give men and women are now freely available in the person and Lordship of Christ. If you are in Christ through faith, then you are co-heirs to every good thing of God.
That is an excellent retirement plan.
Take advantage of that!
Be like the dishonest manager!
Be honest about your weakness and frailty.
Study the obligations of your Master!
And make an appropriate plan.
Even still, come Lord Jesus.
An earlier version of this article by the same author can be found here.