“The master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the children of this age are more shrewd than the children of light in dealing with their own people.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Jesus said some strange things during His ministry. There are whole books dedicated to examining this or that hard saying. LifeWay’s Bible Studies for Life Sunday school material has been looking at different hard sayings of Jesus for the last few weeks. I’ve preached at least two sermon series on the subject. Of all the weird and hard things Jesus said that the Gospel authors recorded for us, this parable ranks right near or even at the top of the list. Let’s talk about why and what we are to do with it.
The story starts with a rich guy who finds out that the man he hired to manage his estate has been a spendthrift. Naturally, he’s going to fire him, but first he demands a full accounting of the books so he can get a sense of what his losses have been. So far so good. This is exactly what we would have expected the rich man to do. If you had found out your money manager had lost a bunch of your money, you’d be looking for an explanation as to what happened just before you fired him too.
Next, though, things start to turn in a surprising direction. The manager starts to worry about what he’s going to do. He doesn’t question his master’s decision. He knew he had it coming. He would have fired himself if he were the master. That’s not his concern. His concern is what he’s going to do next. He’s old enough that getting a job doing manual labor of some kind isn’t going to be an option. He won’t be able to keep that job because he won’t be able to satisfy the physical requirements of it. On the other hand, simply turning to begging in order to get by isn’t going to happen either. He’s got far too much personal pride to do that. In other words, he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Then, in a flash of inspiration, he has an idea. He’s getting fired for his poor management of his master’s money. That means his master doesn’t trust him. He’s not going to be able to gain his trust back and it won’t matter anyway because he’s getting kicked to the curb. Things really can’t get any worse for him. So he doubles down on it.
He calls a few of the people who have borrowed from his master for some reason or another. When the first one comes in, he asks him how big his debt to the rich man is. The man tells him and he says in response: “Okay, take your bill, scratch out that number and write this one in its place,” and he tells him to cut it in half.
He calls the next debtor in and does the same thing. Debtor after debtor he goes through his master’s books and cancels or significantly decreases the amount they owe his master.
Now, why would he do this? Jesus tells us. The man is planning for what his life situation is going to be like next. What are all these different folks who suddenly find themselves with much less debt than they had before going to do? What will their opinion of him be?
Well, they certainly aren’t going to hire him to manage their money, but they are going to be awfully grateful to him. In fact, given the culture of the day, they are going to feel indebted to him. They won’t owe him money, they’ll owe him favors. More to the point, they’ll be willing to receive him into their homes to provide for him once he loses his job. In other words, he’s doing some retirement planning.
And at this point in the story, we figure his master is going to go ballistic. He’s found out he’s blowing all his money, he’s going to fire him for it, and now he’s costing him even more money on his way out the door. We expect that he’s going to hold the manager personally responsible for every dime he’s cost him. He’s going to throw him in prison until he works off the debt he now owes his master. He’s going to have it taken out of his hide. That’s what we expect, but this is Jesus telling the story. Jesus never does what we expect.
Instead of what we expect, we get v. 8. ”The master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the children of this age are more shrewd than the children of light in dealing with their own people.”
Wait, what? He praises him? Why? With the story in place, we’ll talk about what it means this afternoon.