Then 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 accounting 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. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
I’m not entirely clear here, probably because I had a long day and I’m pretty tired. But I’m giving it my best shot, and my husband read what I wrote and says I’m on the right track, so there’s probably something going not too terribly wrong. So here goes.
First of all, the NRSV translation uses the word “dishonest” in this passage frequently. However, a better translation of that word may be “worldly”. When I went back and re-read it, replacing all of the dishonests with wordlys, the whole thing made a little bit more sense. I recommend doing the same, or checking out a different translation.
So here’s the story:
A rich man discovers his stock broker (or perhaps accountant would be closer, there doesn’t seem to be a quite exact modern translation) is lousy at his job and lost him a whole bunch of money. Naturally he fires the man. With unemployment looming, the stock broker evaluates his circumstances and realizes he’s not fit for any other job, and that his only hope is for another rich man to hire him. So in an effort to earn their goodwill, he makes a series of generous deals on his boss’s behalf. The rich man, instead of being angry, recognizes his broker has acted in his own best interest, and writes him a glowing recommendation for being so clever and resourceful.
Perhaps not Jesus’s most realistic parable, but it’s to the point.
The moral of the story (Jesus says) is that wealth and comfort are likely only temporary, so it is wise to spend them in such a way that will make others care for you when they are gone. Plus, that’s what God wants you to do anyway, so win-win. Plus, it’s only worldly stuff that doesn’t really matter, but when you use it well God is more likely to trust you with stuff that does matter, so win-win-win.
Bottom line, we can’t become so infatuated with our comforts (or potential comforts) that we forget about the One who gave them all to us in the first place. Put God FIRST, or you’ll end up putting Him last.
Honestly, this entire passage feels kind of thrown together. It’s like Jesus was talking about one thing, then realized it wasn’t the most Godly message, so He tried to throw God in there a couple of times. I reads like a bad sermon, really. I think that’s why I had such a hard time understanding it. But certain parts, especially the last bit about not serving two masters, are recurring from the other Gospels. I wonder if Luke maybe just didn’t get the most rational or well-remembered version of this story. My husband suspects maybe it’s based on a secular parable that Luke adapted. Either way, definitely one of the more confusing parables I’ve read so far.