The Shrewd Manager
Jesus said to his disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and he received complaints that this man
was squandering the property. So he sent for him, and said,‘What is this that I hear? Produce your accounts, for you cannot be manager here any longer.’ ”The manager said to himself, “What am I to do now that my employer is dismissing me? I am not strong enough to dig, and too proud to beg. I know what I must do, to make sure that, when I have to leave, there will be people to give me house and home.”
He summoned his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, “How much do you owe my master?” He replied, “A thousand gallons of olive oil.”
He said, “Here is your account. Sit down and make it five hundred; and be quick about it.” Then he said to another, “And you, how much do you owe?” He said, “A thousand bushels of wheat”, and was told, “Take your account and make it eight hundred.”
And the master applauded the dishonest manager for acting so astutely. For the worldly are more astute than the other-worldly in dealing with their own kind.
Luke 6:1-8 (The New English Bible).
This story seems an unlikely place for us to begin our search for Jesus’ teaching on eternity. Although this parable is not often used in sermons, we can probably relate to it from incidents reported on almost daily in our newspapers. It is also crucial to our understanding of Jesus’ thinking and teaching concerning eternity. Jesus used this story to communicate something important about eternity and its relationship to time and space. The story also creates a backdrop for Jesus to portray His expectations about people who are living in eternity.
This parable is about a manager who does something that is dishonest. This manager takes his employer’s assets and sells them at a loss for his own benefit. This is called theft and fraud. How would you react if such a person were your employee? Would you really feel like publicly complementing him for defrauding you of your property? And just at the time you had given him notice he was being fired for incompetence? I don’t think so!
At first glance, one has difficulty in understanding how Jesus would use a story in which a person is commended for dishonesty. Is Jesus trying to establish a new ethical standard for the Kingdom of God? Does the end justify the means?
Do it if it works? Only the bottom line counts? Take care of yourself first, last and always? No, none of these.
The Manager’s World
Using a parable, Jesus sharply contrasts two worldviews.
The manager was living in a frame of reference that excluded eternity. He was acting as if all that mattered was the present.
His rules were from this world—his culture, his time. There was no connection to anything beyond this life. As others saw what he did, including his employer, they applauded.
“Hey, this fellow knows how to take care of himself! Good for him!” He was in step with the values of his time. He applied the ethical standards of his day to offset the consequences of his being fired for incompetence.
The manager, Jesus explained, lived by the “rules” of this world. Accordingly, it’s OK to be dishonest if it gets you ahead. You can cheat to advance your own career or improve your status. It’s all right to steal from your employer—after all you worked hard to make him rich—you deserve it. In the story, success and truth were measured by cultural, temporal and individual standards; it’s all relative to the time and place you live in. It’s a dog-eat-dog world and everyone knows that. Get yours while you can. In the process, the manager was insuring a future for himself without considering eternity.
Before concluding the story, however, Jesus brings forward a sharp contrast to the manager’s world. He introduces the “other world.” In effect Jesus declared, “There is another world which also has rules that the manager ignored!” The rules of this “other world” should stir up within its citizens the same adherence, as do the rules of this world. Sadly, He added, the grip of this world’s rules on its citizens is stronger than is the hold of the other world’s rules on its citizens.
Can we paraphrase what Jesus just announced? You are going to be controlled by one of two worlds: “This world” (the manager’s world), or the other world. Control by this world may give you advantage today. You may achieve temporary goals and recognition in this world by employing its methods and devices. Because its corrupted rules and standards rise from a corrupt source, those under this world’s control may even congratulate you for the shrewd manipulation of their methods and devices.
Then Jesus drew the application: Citizens of the other world are being outdone in their dealings with “this world.” Citizens of the other world should use money (or any other asset) to accomplish eternal goals. Those living by other world standards should apply at least the same amount of drive displayed by “this world’s” citizens.
Jesus used this story to identify two sets of standards and rules that are operating at the same time. The story also
revealed how people living for this world function. The goal of temporary, physical security and ease is so important in
this world that fraud and theft are acceptable methods to reach those goals. But Jesus declared another world also exists that is permanent (eternal). This presents a choice about which standards and rules you will live by and use to invest your money. He drew the conclusion that those of this world are more committed to the temporary rules that pass away than the citizens of the other world are to living by rules that are eternal.
That brings us to a question: For which group of citizens was the parable intended? In telling this story, whom had Jesus been watching? The story points to the failure in commitment by people who claim citizenship in the other world. As the manager acted to take care of himself for only today, individuals can also choose to act for eternal considerations. What is Jesus’ point to those of the other world? “If you are living in eternity, live like it!”
Do we still have two differing sets of standards to select from? If so, does it make a difference which set we live by?
How do we know the standards and rules?
To fully understand the rules and standards for living in eternity, we must inquire about the ruler. To have rules and
standards there must be someone who sets or makes those standards, someone who is in control. That is true whether it’s a company, a classroom, or a country. We recall that Jesus began His teaching talking about “the Kingdom of God.” A “kingdom” must have a king. Well, what did Jesus say about the ruler of the Kingdom He announced? That is critical since the character of the King will determine the nature of the Kingdom. That, in turn, will lead us to the requirements for being part of that Kingdom.
Jesus addresses the “Kingdom” from the viewpoint of one who has firsthand knowledge about it. He doesn’t begin quoting from outside sources. His statements and description about the Kingdom are not found in the vocabulary of “this world.” He did not borrow His perspective from others. He revealed new information about the Kingdom as well as the King. He informed us of the truth of the other world. From the parable of the shrewd manager, we see how Jesus exposed the failure of commitment by those who claim citizenship in the other world or Kingdom. He expected better. To explain what He was looking for, He began by
identifying the ingredients that make up the Kingdom of God. After that, He showed how living in eternity could be a reality now. To understand the Kingdom, let’s first examine what Jesus said about the Kingdom’s Ruler.