The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

Found only in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus narrated the parable of the lost son (prodigal son) and the parable of the dishonest manager (shrewd manager) one after the other. But while the parable of the prodigal son is well known for its theme, the lesser-known parable of the shrewd or dishonest manager has people divided over its obscure message. The audience for the parable of the shrewd manager included both the disciples and the Pharisees present, whom Jesus has addressed right at the end. Following the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus continues on the same theme, as both the love for money and the need for earthly friends eventually tears us apart from God.

The Shrewd Manager

In the parable, Jesus talks about a dishonest manager who was wasting the possessions of his master. One day this master called him and asked him to give an account of all his maladministration. The manager was now afraid for his livelihood as he had no other way to earn a living. He thought he was too weak for manual labour and too proud to beg and borrow from his friends and relatives. So he concocted a plan to make friends for himself at his master’s expense. He called each of his master’s debtors one by one and halved their dues before settling their accounts.

The manager was already accused of wasting his master’s possessions, but after he found out that he was about to lose his job, he became even more blatant with his dishonesty. He knew that he will not be able to convince his master to allow him to keep his job or to forgive his past trespasses. So he turned to the debtors hoping to earn their trust to secure his future. Today when people switch companies they do the same in hopes of gaining favour with their new employers. They offer trade secrets of their current employers and even entice their subordinates to switch over along with them. This is a self-preservation tactic, that many in different industries employ to secure their stand with the future employer. Even in sports, managers when switching clubs try to get their entire backroom stuff to go along with them. They even try to entice a few of the star players of their old team to come ‘join them for an adventure’ in pastures new.

Player switching clubs along with their managers is a common sight these days

In our relationship with God we also sometimes feel that there is no way back. Hoping to secure our future without him we turn to the people we know and try to gain their support. In trying to make the people of this world happy we betray God even more blatantly. The things that we were previously afraid to do now seem like nothing and we go on sinning and going further down the rabbit hole. During this period satan supports us till the time our connection with God is completely broken. Once his objective is achieved he leaves us with the friends we have gathered and with our superficial life. When his master realized what the manager had been doing during his notice period, he commended him for his shrewdness.

The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

Luke 16:8 (NIV)

The master gave his manager one last opportunity to clear his name and turn from his dishonest ways. But the manager used this time in a very shrewd manner hoping to perhaps find future employment with his master’s debtors. Seeing that the manager had cost further losses to him, the master now completely made up his mind to get rid of him and commended him for his last-ditch effort to find security. The master did not commend him for his dishonesty but for his cunningness in concocting such a plan.

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Luke 16:9 (NIV)

Jesus’ instruction to those who follow Him has always been to leave the world behind along with its riches. Those who have money on their mind will never be able to accomplish God’s will in their lives. In the parable of the prodigal son (that preceded this parable), the son realized the love of his father only after his friends had abandoned him. What Jesus is telling his listeners is to try and gain friends using our influence, power or money that they have acquired on this earth just like the dishonest manager had done. After depending on those friends and seeing them fail us we would come to the realization of how great is the love of the Father towards us. It is our nature to try everything possible on our own before coming to God in our helpless state. Only when we have tried using everything available at our disposal to find peace in this world, will we truly appreciate what the Father has in store for us, eternal dwellings.

God’s Point of View

What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight

Luke 16:15 (NIV)

Jesus says that the people of the world are more shrewd than the people of the light. But the shrewdness of the dishonest people can only get them so far as the rewards of their manipulations would die on this earth along with them. The benefactors of the manager’s dishonesty would have realised that he could not be trusted with his master’s possessions and would have not been ready to put him in charge of their own assets. He is asking us to choose between the riches of this world or God as there can be no middle ground.

The Pharisees that were present in the crowds all sneered at Jesus because they preached that one could have both God and money. Just because a country adopts their motto to be ‘In God We Trust’, that does not qualify their actions to be right in the sight of God. Their dependence on oil, gold and their military, show where their trust actually lies. We can choose to be wise and shrewd in the ways of this world or can choose to be humble and obedient to the ways of God but if we think that there can be a compromise between the two, then we are not as shrewd as we think.

US currency with the words ‘In God we Trust’ printed on them

Questions Discussed

  • Why did the manager reduce the amount owed by the debtors of his master when he was already accused of wasting his possessions? How does this apply in our lives?
  • Why is the Master commending dishonesty?
  • How can we use wealth to gain friends while on earth and how does that lead to us being welcomed into ‘eternal dwellings’?
  • What is Jesus teaching us through this parable?

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