Three Taverns Church

The Parable Of The Shrewd Manager – Conclusion

6 Comments

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…

My Conclusion
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?

6 thoughts on “The Parable Of The Shrewd Manager – Conclusion

  1. RM, I haven’t fully digested your interpretation of this parable (which has ALWAYS left me confused and uncomfortable, so thanks for tackling it!), but on the face of it, I think that’s a good interpretation. My only question up front would be this: Jesus said, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friend*s* for yourselves…”. If He was referring to The Father, why would he refer to Him in the plural? Or is He basically saying, “each of you use your wealth to gain God as a friend, and then together as a group you can each claim a new friend (thus making it the plural ‘friends’)”? That seems a bit of a stretch to me, so if you can elaborate, I would appreciate it! Again, thanks for tackling what is, for me, probably the most confusing bit of Scripture in the New Testament!

    • Hey fastmov4, because this is a parable Jesus probably used language that wasn’t intended to be “theologically precise”. He was speaking to a crowd and was talking about making “friends”. He could also have been referring to the triune God-head of Father, Son, and Spirit. I think it most likely, however, that Jesus was saying that by giving your money away and helping those in need you are actually doing these things to/for Jesus, not just for the people. So by making “friends” of the poor around you, you make a “friend” in Jesus who can secure that “eternal dwelling” for you.

  2. Didn’t Jesus secure our eternal dwelling when He shed His blood at the cross and then rose from the dead?

  3. Yes, of course our eternal dwelling with God is for those who Believe in Jesus’ name and do the will of the Father! My comment was on your entire sentence that stated: “So by making friends of the poor around you, you make a friend in Jesus who can secure that eternal dwelling place for you”.

    Do you believe that people can earn their way to heaven by making friends with the poor? Some who make “friends” with the poor do it for their own advantage, perhaps monetary or emotional. They have no intention on befriending the poor in response to the will of the Father. I don’t think the shrewd manager was securing an eternal dwelling place by his actions.

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