This is one weird parable. There are as many interpretations of it as there are people who have read it. 

Here’s my take on it. The man was given a job to do, and he was equipped with the tools to do it. But he was a shark, and his boss finally caught him at it. So to save his own neck he cheats his master some more. From back to front the guy is unscrupulous. Even though the master is firing him, he commends him for his crafty shrewdness. 

Jesus concludes, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” I’m sorry, but to me this doesn’t sound like Jesus. He doesn’t talk like this, and he doesn’t use this kind of expression (it sounds weird to hear Jesus call his followers “people of the light”). The only other reference that’s even close to it is Mt. 13.38 where he says, “people of the kingdom.” But that is more like him.

Maybe I can approach it this way: the manager is shrewd in dealing with people, and the rich man not so much, because he hired a dishonest guy, but he didn’t even know it until he was told, and then he let the guy off the hook.

But why is Jesus even talking about this? He has just finished telling 3 other parables about the lost being found. So this is the 4th parable. In that case, it sounds like the parable is about reckless grace that lets people off the hook even when they have noticeably and intentionally sinned. God, and his people, are not shrewd, calculating, bitter, vengeful, and cutthroat like earthly managers, but full of grace.

V. 9: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” This is a bizarre kind of saying, and still just doesn’t sound like Jesus. But if I had to make something of it, which I do, I would say it sounds like an odd combination of the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, and the Parable of the Generous Landowner, as well as the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Be reckless in your grace. Be generous to a fault. Lavish unearned blessing on the poor and needy.

V. 10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” You are who you are, and that will show itself whether your task is large or small, important or insignificant. “By their fruits you will know them,” said Jesus. Your character, values, and priorities will show regardless of your station in life or the responsibilities on your list. It’s a fallacy to think that you will show your true self when your ship comes in and you are finally given something important to do. As my father says they were taught in the Navy: if you can’t figure out how to fold your socks and keep your footlocker arranged, you won’t be able to figure out how to steer a ship.

“So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” This still doesn’t sound like Jesus. It’s hard to imagine him ever saying that only if you’re good at handling money would I ever trust you with salvation. This is so weird, but I’ll give it my best shot. Stewardship is stewardship; responsibility is responsibility. It doesn’t matter if it’s small or large, earthly or spiritual. Can you take what you have and use it responsibly? Can you use what you’ve been given to its greatest possible advantage for its own cause rather than for your own? Can you use what you’ve been given to its greatest possible advantage for its own cause rather than for your own? 

V. 15: “[Jesus] said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.’ ” People can get away with all kinds of deceit, false impressions, and mask-wearing in front of people. There’s a sucker born every minute. You can fool most of the people most of the time and get away with it. You think you’re fooling the people it is important to fool, but ultimately, you are only fooling yourself because the One who really counts, God, isn’t suckered, and you will be held accountable for your actions. Meanwhile, Satan broke into God’s “store” and changed all the price tags (just as in the parable). Our value system is both upside down and inside out. God sees through the falseness, and so must we.

That’s the best I can do wit’ it.

Leave a Reply