The Parable of the Dishonest Manager
This parable was quite tricky for me to understand. I had to re-read it several times and even look at other Bible versions.
For example, the term unrighteous wealth really threw me off. In other translations, it gives the interpretation worldly wealth, which made more sense. I suppose unrighteous wealth simply mean things of this world.
Some other definitions that I had to look up: sons of this world refers to unbelievers, and sons of light refers to believers.
Okay, now for my interpretation of the story.
Jesus tells his disciples yet another parable about a dishonest manager who is about to be fired.
We don’t know exactly why the manager is being fired, but it clearly has something to do with his dishonesty. Some of my guesses include abusing his position of power to unjustly enriching himself or doing shady deals behind the scenes without his master’s permission.
So the manager knows he is doomed. He admits that he can’t do manual labor (the type of work employees performed before the information age). Essentially, he isn’t qualified to be a regular employee. He likely won’t have a job after he loses this one.
Well, he’s got to provide for himself, right? So he uses the last remaining bits of his power to help himself. He reduces the debts of his master’s debtors in exchange for provisions down the line (food, shelter, etc.) so he can survive.
This verse puzzled me for some good time:
The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.Luke 16:8
This sounds like the master is praising his dishonest manager. For doing something dishonest?
Hang on. Does this mean Jesus endorses this type of behavior too?
Not quite. I think the master is thinking something more along the lines of, “Not bad, my bad and unfaithful servant. I’ll hand it to you that you know how to take care of yourself.”
By this point, the story of the dishonest manager is over. But Jesus has some lessons for his disciples.
Jesus immediately follows up with “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” He is stating the sad but true fact that unbelievers tend to be wiser in the things of this world than believers are about the things of the world to come.
In other words, Jesus is saying being street smart is important too.
This verse also puzzled me:
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.Luke 16:9
The verse didn’t make sense to me until I substituted unrighteous wealth with worldly wealth.
The principle Jesus teaches us is to be a good steward. Use the resources given to you in this world for the kingdom of God.
“Make friends for yourselves” means spreading the Gospel. “When it fails” means worldly wealth will eventually fail but it can still be used to be a force of good, as long as we don’t rank money higher than God. And finally, “they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” indicates that their souls will be saved.
Jesus then proceeds to state that the little things count. They all add up. If you can’t handle unrighteous wealth, how will you be entrusted to handle true riches? And if you aren’t capable of taking care of someone else’s stuff, are you really able to care for what is your own?
Finally, he ends this with the theme of you cannot serve God and money.
The Law and the Kingdom of God
In Biblical fashion, we find Jesus once again roasting his favorite group of people: the Pharisees. He issues two warnings.
The first warning:
And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”Luke 16:15
Let’s not forget that the Pharisees were some of the most highly respected followers of the Jewish law. They were the best of the best.
But unfortunately, they’ve let their pride and hunger to appear good before men take over. And that’s never a good thing, because they’ve started to idolize prestige among humans over fulfilling the law itself.
And onto the second warning:
But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.Luke 16:17
Jesus reminds us how hard it is to completely fulfill the Law. Those Pharisees are really going to need all the help they can get.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
The one-sentence version of this story is this: rich while on earth means poor in heaven, and poor on earth means rich in heaven.
The most interesting part of this story is towards the end when the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn the rich man’s family. He himself made the mistake of not repenting during his lifetime, so he at least wanted his family to hear it.
But Abraham countered that prophets have already been sent. If they don’t listen to the prophets, they’re hopeless. Just like how the rich man himself didn’t listen to the prophets, how will his family react any differently when they hear from Lazarus?
And no offense to Lazarus, but he probably isn’t nearly as respectable as a Prophet (yes, this was capitalized). The rich man’s family will probably just think Lazarus is crazy.
The Two Key Lessons
Lesson 1: Be a good steward. While on this earth, we have been granted certain gifts and resources. Be street smart like the dishonest manager and use them to serve the kingdom of God. Of course, don’t be dishonest. But even the sons of light have some things to learn from the sons of this world.
Lesson 2: Do not get too attached to the things of this world. In the case of the Pharisees, they bask in their position of academic excellence in society. In the case of the rich man, he satisfied his flesh by feasting excessively. Because of their attachment to the world, it’s difficult for them to humble themselves to seek Christ.
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