We’ve been taking a closer look at Jesus’ teachings and his parables lately. We’ve mentioned how some parables seem to be confusing, which require Jesus to explain, yet there are some that Jesus never explains. Here’s a closer look at one of those parables in particular: The Shrewd Manager.
The parable can be found in Luke 16. What is so confusing about this is that as Jesus tells the story, the manager commends his servant for doing something dishonest.
“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 (Luke 16:8-9).”
The parable of The Shrewd Manager examines the ways in which the world glorifies dishonesty. When the master learned that his manager continued to be dishonest to save his own skin, the master commended his manager for cleverly doing so. In his book, “The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era,” James Jeffers describes the cultural climate of the Greco-Roman world to include a regular practice of dishonesty in monetary dealings.
Tax collectors were despised and were lumped with ‘sinners and harlots.’ Jeffers points out that tax collectors over inflated taxes due, were regarded as traitors since they collected for Rome, and were unclean because they associated with Gentiles (charged taxes to Gentile visitors who passed on public roads and bridges, etc.).
Jesus’ parable demonstrates how dishonest dealings were common; so much so that the master was not the least bit upset with his servant, but rather impressed. To us, this seems odd, but to the Jewish people, it was business as usual. So having Jesus tell a story where a master commends the shrewd manager was not confusing to the Jewish listeners. Unfortunately, these kinds of dishonest dealings were also common within the religious climate. That is why Jesus directed this parable directly to the Pharisees.
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
“You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:10-15).
Jesus was making the point that the Pharisees were putting greed in place of changing hearts; and that true treasures are stored in heaven.