Monday, September 13, 2010

The Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-13)

I've been writing a blog about training for a marathon ( for the past several months, and have enjoyed this quite a bit.  I've made reference to sermons a few times, as I am also a minister, and have decided that I would start a preaching blog, as well.  While I hope readers get something out of my musings, I am doing this for me, as it helps me to process my thoughts during the sermon preparation process.  In a somewhat humorous twist, however, I am starting my sermon blog the week before taking a vacation, so the sermon will not be preached.  However, I have to start some time, so here it goes.

I tend to preach from the New Revised Common Lectionary, a 3-year, multi-denominational guide for ministers.  For each week, there is a reading from the Old Testament with a complimenting Psalm, a New Testament Reading, and a Gospel Reading.  There is somewhat of a theme most Sundays, and some ministers use multiple texts on a given Sunday.  I, however, tend to focus on just one, and it is usually not the Psalm.

For the week of September 19, 2010, the text I would have chosen is Luke 16:1-13, sometimes referred to as The Parable of the Shrewd Manager.  In this passage, Jesus tells the disciples about a dishonest man whose boss finds out that he has been squandering the boss' money.  So, as any good boss would do, he calls the manager in for an accounting.  The manager, believing himself to old for manual labor and too proud for welfare, decides he needs to do something, and do it quickly!  So, he calls in all those who hold accounts with him, asks what they owe, cuts that amount in half, and makes the debtors happy.  The boss, hearing of this, is impressed by the man's shrewdness and his attempt to get into the good graces of his debtors.  You see, even though the property owner was likely losing money in the process, he was impressed at the resourcefulness of the manager.  And in fact, he may not have been losing money, anyway.  As the manager, this employee had a right to charge extra for goods, similar to charging interest, as a way of making money through the deal, so he may have been doing nothing more then cutting his losses to get back in the good graces of the boss and the debtors.  Whatever his mindset, the man was working hard to secure his future, either with those who owed him money or with his boss.

Jesus ends the parable by making a strange comment:  "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."  Is Jesus saying, then, that we should be dishonest with our transactions?  Is he really telling us to make friends for ourselves with dishonest money?  I am not sure that this is the case.  In fact, I believe that what Jesus is saying is that not that we should be dishonest with money, but that we should learn from those who are.  They are looking to their future, trying to find ways to secure a safe haven for themselves, making friends through deals.  What do we, as "honest" Christians do to secure our future?

The simple answer has to do with how we live in the present, as well as how we prepare for the future.  It is, in a manner of speaking, a parable about asking for forgiveness.  The manager is asking the forgiveness of those whom he overcharged in the past by cutting their debts in half.  In so doing, he is securing his future with those whom he has sinned against.  Jesus' response is that if the dishonest manager is smart enough to ask for forgiveness to keep himself from digging ditches or going on welfare, how much more should we be willing to ask for forgiveness to secure our eternal glory?  Jesus is saying to the people that the children of the world, i.e. the non-followers of Jesus, are less proud and more willing to act rightly to secure their futures then are the children of the light, who are supposed to be humble!

Where are you?  Are you like the shrewd manager?  Are you looking to your future in this life by manipulating your earthly accounts?  Or are you like the so-called children of the light, who simply believe that Jesus will take care of it all?  Or are you perhaps somewhere in-between, realizing your sin and asking for God's forgiveness, securing your salvation in the future?  We do this not to earn our salvation, but in response to our salvation.  The difference between the shrewd manager and us is that it costs us nothing to secure our future, save belief in the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.  What a small price to pay for an eternity of peace!