1He said to his disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and the manager was accused of stealing the rich man’s stuff. 2So he called him and said, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3But the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do? I can’t dig and I’m ashamed to beg! 4I know what I’ll do, so that when I’m fired as manager, folks will receive me into their houses.’ 5So he called each of the people who owed his employer money, and he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my employer?’ 6And he said, ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.’ But the manager said to him, ‘Take the bill and sit down quickly and write 50.’ 7Then to another he said, ‘And you, what do you owe?’ He answered, ‘One hundred bushels of wheat.’ He told him, ‘Take the bill, and write 80.’ 8And the employer praised the unjust manager because he had acted shrewdly. Because the people of this world are more shrewd than are the people of the light in dealing with their own. — Luke 16:1-8
A couple of years ago I watched a TV story on a new church that had been started by people in the punk rock scene. In the story, the majority of the Christians who were asked to comment on the church never got beyond tattoos, leather jackets, and jewelry. A few who managed that got stuck on the volume of the music. Very few got to the point of asking the question of whether this new church was reaching people with the gospel who might otherwise never be reached.
Now my point this morning is not to justify that particular church or to condemn it. My point is about Christians who are easily distracted from the point when the context is something that they are not used to. We are very easily limited in our thinking by things that are not part of the main message. For many of these Christians the things that might be taught in that church, or the young people who might go there but would never go to a church with a pipe organ and robed choir simply never came up because the surrounding atmosphere of tattoos, jewelry, drums, and electric guitars carried them away.
That church was outside of their box, and they weren’t even able to consider it. They rejected it without consideration.
I like the parables of Jesus because they so often catch us off guard. We are easily led to think of ourselves as the wrong person. For example, how many times have we heard the story of the prodigal son while we were in church, and thought of ourselves as the prodigal. To be more precise, we think of ourselves as prodigals who have returned. Thus the story barely touches us in our current condition. But if you think about it, in most churches, people should be identifying themselves with the â€œotherâ€ son, the one who didn’t rejoice when the prodigal came home.
The parable of the shrewd manager could just as easily be the parable of the easily distracted Christian. In all the times I have either taught this parable or heard it taught, the immediate reaction is: â€œBut the manager was dishonest!â€ The assumption is that we can’t learn anything else here, because the key message has to be about dishonesty.
But Jesus isn’t talking about honesty or dishonesty. He’s talking about being shrewd, and I would suggest also about thinking outside the box. There are a number of â€œnormalâ€ reactions to being caught skimming money from one’s boss. One is to try to cover it up through creative bookkeeping. Another is to run away and change your identity. Yet another is to give up and go away. But this manager did it differently. He thought outside the box. He made a plan, not for retirement, but for being-fired-ment.
And his master recognized the plan as shrewd. I have heard many people who assume that because the master praised that manager, he must have let him keep his job. But I suspect he lost the job anyhow. The master praised him to his friends. â€œHe may have been dishonest, but he was shrewd!â€
The point that we miss because we are easily distracted is that God calls us to be creative in our way of dealing with the world. He was. Just as the natural reaction of the manager caught embezzling funds would be to cover up or to run, so the natural reaction to the Romans was armed violence. But Jesus suggested forgiveness and overwhelming kindness.
How can you be shrewd as a Christian this week?