The Dishonest Manager, by Christine Hides
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. Luke 16:1–9
Reflection: So let’s get this straight, the owner of a wholesale grocery business accuses his employee of mismanagement. To save his job (and avoid menial labor), the manager engages in some fuzzy accounting, earning himself and his boss goodwill from the suppliers. The manager’s dishonest behavior earns praise from the owner.
If you are scratching your head about this parable, you are in good company. Even Augustine, the revered 4th century theologian, is reported to have said something like, “I can’t believe this story came from the lips of our Lord.” Challenging parables like these cannot be distilled into a simple moral teaching.
Some find a bit of wisdom in thinking about stewarding the new, eternal order of God’s realm Jesus preaches, even if it means disrupting the temporary order of this world. Some say this parable asks, “how much more…” As in “how much more forgiving is God than the owner.” Some see a call to purposeful action. Unlike the prodigal son who loses it all, does nothing, and ends up tending the pigs, this manager acts decisively to benefit his boss.
If none of this speaks to us, then we can circle it to come back to later.
God who challenges, move us from oversimplification to wisdom. Amen.