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.
This is a very puzzling parable, and it has been a problem from the beginning. What exactly did the manager do? Was the ‘squandering’ mentioned at the beginning a case of incompetence that he then attempted to cover up? If so, then the cover-up was the beginning of the dishonesty. Or was his squandering a case of dishonesty from the beginning? Nobody seems able to decide how to read this detail of the story.
Some commentators try to make sense of it as follows. Such managers had great liberty in the way they did their work. To pay themselves, they would lend out the owner’s property and charge high interest rates on it. What this steward cancelled may have been these interest rates. In other words he himself, not his master, was the loser. This would explain how the master could commend him and admire his shrewdness, but it doesn’t explain why he is described as ‘dishonest’ in the last verse. The argument is sure to go on.
At all events, the use of wealth is a major topic in Luke’s gospel, and this parable is unique to him. He is keenly aware of the power that wealth has to make fools of us: see the parable of the rich fool in 12:16-21 (“I will build bigger barns….” “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.”), and the parable about the rich man and Lazarus in 16:19-31). Currencies fluctuate, but this seems to hold true for all time.
Jesus remarked that worldly people are more shrewd than people of the light (the disciples). We tend to be sharp when it comes to money, but slow and vague when it comes to matters of the spirit. Someone who is financially savvy is considered the very opposite of a fool. But Luke turns this precisely on its head.
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