In the end, I was overthinking my approach to this parable. The language was so confusing to me, Jesus’ words so seemingly at odds with my impression of Him, that I dove too deeply into the minutiae of the text. It wasn’t until I accidentally read through the text last night while looking for another passage that all the pieces finally came together.
I’ll paste the text below, then summarize my conclusions. I’d love to read your interpretation of the text as well!
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
The parable opens with an antagonistic relationship between a rich man and the manager of his household. The title “rich man” is familiar; “rich men” generally don’t enter the kingdom of God. The manager is accused of wasting the rich man’s possessions, and in the next several verses we see that the manager is wasteful and dishonest. The rich man surprisingly commends the manager’s behavior; apparently shrewd, worldly people deal with each other much differently than Jesus’ disciples are to do.
It’s the last sentence of the text that threw me off for so long, and I suspect it’s what throws off other people as well. When Jesus says, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves…” it sounds like He’s advising His followers to behave as the shrewd manager did despite contrasting the manager to the “people of the light” immediately beforehand. What I failed to note was the use of the literary device “I tell you”. In other passages of Scripture Jesus uses this phrase when he turns the situation on its head.
As Jesus started telling this story of a rich man and his manager, all the people in the audience would’ve been nodding right along and thinking to themselves, “Yes, I’ve seen that a hundred times. Rich guy stops paying attention and his manager takes advantage. Serves him right! I wonder where Jesus is going with this…”
Then BAM: “I tell you…” Or, with emphasis added to help you hear Jesus’ voice, “I tell you…”
As in, “Here is the world as you understand it, but I’m telling you something else…”
Other contrasting uses of “I tell you…” in Scripture include Matthew 5:28, 5:32, 6:29, 12:6, 12:36, and 19:9. In the Gospel of Matthew the phrase “I tell you” is often preceded with the word “but” to draw attention to the contrasting statement to follow. In the Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, many of the instances of “I tell you” are preceded with the words “In the same way”, to show continuity of thought. The absence of the preceding words “but” and “I tell you” creates a bit of a problem. If this were the Gospel of Matthew, the absence of “but” would indicate continuity of thought (which would throw us in a wild direction). However, without the words “In the same way” in this particular Gospel we can’t be sure whether this is a contrasting or continuing line of thought. Since a continuing line of thought would seem to contradict other teachings of Jesus I think it’s safe to assume that this particular “I tell you” indicates a contrasting thought to follow.
Here’s the final verse of the parable again: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
If Jesus is setting up a contrasting thought with the words “I tell you”, He’s telling us to behave differently than the shrewd manager; He’s flipping things on their head. But didn’t the shrewd manager make friends for himself using worldly wealth so that when it was gone he would be welcomed into a new job? Don’t Jesus’ words sound like He’s advising us to do the same thing? But that can’t be right if we agree Jesus is contrasting what the shrewd manager did with what He wants us to do…
I believe Jesus wants us to “use” our worldly wealth by giving it away rather than using it to care for ourselves. I believe that by giving our money away to those in need we are caring for God’s children and gaining a “Friend” in the Father. I believe that our worldly wealth will be “gone” when we die, not when we simply lose our jobs or go broke. And rather than be welcomed into a new job, when we die God will “welcome” us into His kingdom with the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
So use your money to gain a Friend; give it away. Great will your reward be in heaven!
How do you interpret this parable? Are there any points in the story that are confusing to you? Do you have a different conclusion?