12.03.07 Lk. 16:1-13
PARABLE OF THE DISHONEST MANAGER
1 He also said to the disciples:
A “There was a rich man
who received an accusation that his manager
was squandering his possessions.
B 2 So he called the manager in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear
about you? Give an account of your management,
because you can no longer be my manager.’
C 3 “Then the manager said to himself, ‘What should I do,
since my master is taking the management away from me?
I’m not strong enough to dig; I’m ashamed to beg,
D 4 I know what I’ll do so that
when I’m removed from management,
people will welcome me into their homes.’
C’ 5 “So he summoned each one of his mastor’s debtors.
‘How much do you owe my master?’ he asked the first one.
6 “‘A hundred measures of olive oil,’ he replied.
B’ “‘Take your invoice,’ he told him, ‘sit down quickly, and write 50.’
A’ 7 “Next he asked another, ‘How much do you owe?’
‘A hundred measures of wheat,’ he said.
“‘Take your invoice,’ he told him, ‘and write 80.’
8 “The master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted astutely. For the sons of this age are more astute than the sons of light in dealing with their own people. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous money so that when it fails, they may welcome you into eternal dwellings.
10 Whoever is faithful in very little
is also faithful in much, and
whoever is unrighteous in very little
is also unrighteous with much.
11 So if you have not been faithful with the unrighteous money,
who will trust you with what is genuine?
12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else,
who will give you what is your own?
13 No household slave can be the slave of two masters,
Since he will hate one and love the other,
Or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t be slaves to both God and money.”
Luke 15 has a set of three parables that obviously were intended to be together: the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. But one scholar believes that this parable (Lk. 16:1-13) should be the fourth, because it has a number of similarities with the parable of the prodigal son. They are as follows:
- Each parable has a noble person who extends extraordinary grace to a subservient.
- Each story has a son/servant who is wasteful with his resources
- In each story the foolish person realizes his error.
- In each story, the son/servant relies upon the mercy of his superior.
- In each story, trust has been broken, and dealing with that situation is challenging.
Literary style: The stanzas of Luke 16:1-13 have the following structure: In A, there is first the rich man and his dishonest manager, whereas in A’ Jesus concluded that those of the evil world are wiser than those of spiritual insight.
When Jesus told this parable to the disciples, the leading Pharisees were evidently close enough to overhear the conversation. He told a story of a business entrepreneur, or master, and his manager, both of whom were focused solely on attaining wealth. The Greek word for steward or manager is oikonoms, which can be translated as either a banker’s agent or the manager of a farm. The dishonest manager obviously made a personal profit at the expense of his master, which suggests that his employer (master) suffered a financial loss of some extent. Regardless, the manager recognizes a limited future at his current employment and carefully plans for an escape.
A quick first time reading would leave the impression that Jesus complimented the manager for being a liar and thief, but that is obviously not the case. In this story Jesus commended him for his wisdom to look out for himself, not for his dishonesty. He was dishonest with the wealth of his master (employer) but then realized he was about to be fired from his position. He had enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle, but this was about to change drastically with the loss of his job. Future employment opportunities were nonexistent in light of the reason for his dismissal. Therefore, he decided to be kind to all those who owed his employer money. He reduced their debts and, thereby, won favor with them so that when hard times would come upon him, he could go to them for help.
There is no mention that the rich man did anything dishonest. In fact, twice he was victimized as follows:
- First, when he realized the manager was dishonest and he was dismissed.
- Secondly, the manager quickly reduced the debts of others when he no longer had the authority to do so. Therefore, the rich man was again victimized. The debtors may have discovered that they too were defrauded, but in a culture where honor is highly esteemed, in all probability, the rich man would have honored the final actions of his crooked ex-manager. Note that the manager was fired and told to turn in his accounting books. In that brief period of time from being fired to returning the books, possibly less than a day, the manager hurriedly made these alternative business agreements.
In this culture, people of wealth were expected to be generous to those of lesser financial status, especially the poor. For the rich man to demand that the original debts be honored would have made him look greedy in the eyes of his neighbors; but to honor the reduced debts would have been honorable for him. The very shrewd and dishonest manager, knowing this, got away with a crime that, hopefully, would benefit him in the near future. This cheating scandal probably never became public.
When this writer taught in the seminary in Amman, Jordan, students told him of the importance of family honor – there appears to be no equal of it in Western culture today. Clearly, the same was true in biblical times. Publicly, personal honor was sacred even though privately, the rich man probably wanted to kill his former manager, or at least toss him into prison, or sell him and his family on the slave market to recover his losses. But he didn’t, which suggests that he was quite generous as well as wealthy. Furthermore, notice that when the manager was informed that his scheme was discovered, he made no defense – silence before an accuser is assumed guilt.
The power of a debt can be overwhelming, especially when circumstances change and the debtor is unable to meet the repayment requirements. When the First Jewish Revolt broke out in A.D. 66, one of the primary targets the rebels burned was the archive building in the temple that housed mortgage documents and other debt records.
“Sons of light.” The Jewish people have long been said to be the light unto the Gentiles, meaning that they were to bring knowledge of God to them. The phrase “sons of light,” or, as some translations read, the “people of light,” is a phrase describing the Jewish people, not Christians. Jesus redefined the phrase to mean not only the knowledge of God, but to live accordingly to that knowledge (see 02.01.06). This was a common phrase before the time of Jesus, as evidenced by the Dead Sea Scroll commonly known as The Manual of Discipline.
12.03.07.Q1 In Luke 16:1-13, what is the point Jesus made concerning the dishonest manager?
A possible answer is that the manager learned how wealth could be wisely given away to do some good. The giving of alms was always considered an act of righteousness in the Old Testament and rabbinic writings. Furthermore, depending on how the bill was written, the transactions could very well have been legal. This would have been especially true, if the invoice were written in terms of commodity, rather than cash and interest. The difference in the value of the products could easily benefit the debtor, while not affecting the master.
In this narrative, both the master and the dishonest manager were working hard to attain as much wealth as they could – a reflection upon the religious leaders. The dishonest manager, like some Pharisees and Sadducees, was cunning, shrewd, and wise in a business sense and financially successful. The point Jesus was making is that the dishonest managers and religious thieves understand that money is a tool and not an end or goal in itself.
Notice that some commentaries say that the manager was a slave. He may have been a servant, but in this case, the manager was not a servant/slave. Dishonest slaves did not get fired, but were either killed or sold.
The key point in this story is that Jesus did not applaud the dishonest manager for being a thief, but for his ability to correctly evaluate his options with potential consequences including his employer’s generosity. The ungodly are more shrewd than are God’s children who should be more intentional and dedicated about how they pursue life.
Most likely the manager was employed for several years and understood the rich man’s nature and character – then took advantage of him. In the heart of Jesus, He desires His followers to have the same perception of God as did the manager of his employer. We, like the dishonest manager, risk everything in the confidence of the Master’s mercy and generosity.
. Bailey, Poet and Peasant. Part I, 95, 112.
. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 335.
. Apparently Kenneth Bailey learned the same lessons (in Jesus through Jewish Eyes, 339-41) that this writer did when in the Middle East.
. Millard, “Literacy in the Time of Jesus.” 39.
. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:986-88.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 283-84.