The Parable of the Dishonest Manager has puzzled me for several years. I am indebted to an excellent commentary by Joel Green that has helped me understand the meaning of Jesus’ words.
Luke 16 is connected to character issues that Jesus brought to the attention of the religious authorities of his day.
We will first look at the parable, present an explanation of Jesus’ message, and finally apply it to our lives.
The Parable of the Dishonest Manager
— Luke 16.1-8 – Then 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.”
In some of Jesus’ parables the leading character is God, but that is not true in this instance.
The master and his servant are fictional characters that Jesus used to make a convincing point.
Like the leading Pharisee in chapter 14, the master was prosperous. His servant had a measure of status in the community by virtue of working for the wealthy master.
The dishonest manager was a typical child of “this age.” He figured out a way to retain his position in society, even if he was not honest.
Jesus contrasted the dishonest manager with the “children of light.” They belonged to another realm, the kingdom of God.
Please note, God did not approve of the actions of the dishonest manager. This person was only used to educate Jesus’ disciples in how they should live.
The Punch Line
Every parable has a “punch line,” where the audience is compelled to make a decision based on the story.
Jesus delivered the punch line and explained the meaning of the parable.
— Luke 16.9 – “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
A survey of the verses that surround this parable help us understand Jesus’ intent.
— Luke 14 – The religious leaders at the dinner party were more concerned with their status than the health of a man with a chronic and possibly terminal illness.
They had invested their lives in the kind of wealth and prestige that only has meaning in the here-and-now. There was no eternal value to their behavior.
— Luke 15 – Religious leaders condemned Jesus with this accusation, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15.2).
Jesus disregarded the rules of wealth and status by extending table fellowship to tax collectors and sinners.
The Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son reveal God’s heart. He uses every means possible to reach the lost.
— Luke 16 – The remainder of this chapter further contrasts the behavior of people tied to this present age versus those who are living for the kingdom of God.
Money is a tool and can easily become “dishonest wealth.”
The “children of the light” are to use wealth, social status, and every other means at their disposal to help people become friends of Jesus.
The dishonest manager knew how to make life work to his advantage in a status-and-wealth-seeking world.
Jesus wants his followers, the “children of the light,” to be just as wise as the dishonest manager as citizens of God’s kingdom.
I often use Dallas Willard’s expression, “the Jesus-kind-of-life,” to describe the way God wants us to be disciples of Christ.
If our desire is to be wise “children of the light,” we will adopt the attitudes and actions of Jesus toward other people.
— We will extend table fellowship to people who can’t repay the favor to us.
— We will join Jesus and seek the lost.
— We will use our wealth to help other people become friends of Jesus.
— We will recognize that we belong to a kingdom that is distinctly different from the age in which we live.
— We will imitate Jesus, who is the King of God’s kingdom.
Rudy Ross and I discuss this parable in today’s YouTube video. Rudy brings excellent insight to the passage and you will want to hear him.
The video is on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.
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