In the Gospel of Luke Jesus narrates the parable of the dishonest manager. (Luke 16: 1-9) There were charges against him about squandering the master’s property and the master decided to from service. Then the manager says 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.” He summons the debtors one by one and adjusted the bills they owed to his master. “And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly” and Jesus continues to say, “For the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 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” (Luke 16: 8-9)
Most troubling passage in the Bible
This passage of Luke seems to be one of the most troubling passages in the Bible. Does Jesus praise the dishonest manager? Then why did Jesus tell us that we should emulate that man who clearly squandered the property not belonging to him?
The squandering manager
There was gossip about this manager about which we do not know who was doing the talking and the background that led to it. But Luke uses exactly the same word ‘squandered’ which he uses in the parable of the ‘Prodigal son’ also. The charge against the manager might have been that he was inept and unable to make an efficient profit or perhaps the manager was abusing his expense account or perhaps he was throwing lavish parties for himself and his friends. But one thing is certain that he is clearly called a ‘dishonest manager.’ When the master checks the accounts, the dishonest manager is fired and turned away from service.
Then why did the master ‘commend’ him?
As for me I think, the key for understanding this parable is, the rich man did not know what the dishonest manager did and he never found it out. The fact must be that the rich man trusted the manager until someone accused him of wasting the rich man’s possessions. The manager was so inept that even he did not know what was owed to his master. He had to ask the debtors for details. Had the master asked the debtors about the details, they would have told what the manager had told them. They would have not only attested to the accounting of the manager, but would have also praised the talents and ability of the manager, because they had become partners in the crime of embezzlement. Here the Bible says the master commended the dishonest manager.
Jesus expects us to be shrewd
We should notice that the dishonest manager was not commended for his dishonesty, but for acting shrewdly. What Jesus expects us is to act shrewdly. The main theme of this parable is that we should take wise and appropriate decisions in our quest for the Kingdom of Heaven. The parable exhorts Christians to take decisions in which they may have to forgo some financial gains to ensure their future swelling place of God.
Jesus advices proper use of wealth
It is after this parable of ‘dishonest manager’ that Jesus tells the parable of ‘the rich man and Lazarus’. Both parables deal with the right use of wealth. Please notice the last sentence of the parable: “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.” It may mean wealth earned by dubious or questionable means. It is fitting to remember here the words of St. Paul that the basic reason for all evil is wealth (1Tim. 6:17).
The bible does not say that the wealth is bad in itself. But it is blessed if it is blameless. It is only how it is used. The rich man is blessed (Sir. 31:8) and there is nothing wrong in getting ruches through means ordained by God. (Sir. 29: 11-12) After taking care of a man’s legitimate needs, the rest of his wealth should be used for the poor. Wealth tucked away or hoarded without any intention of doing good to others is in fact immoral wealth. It is through the proper usage of wealth that we will have ‘friends who will welcome us to the eternal homes of heaven’.