MANAGER Luke 16:1-13
Managers are very much a part of modern life. There are the high profile
football managers who try and gain success for their teams and move on
very quickly from one job to another. In most of the working world managers
are a vital part of how an organisation works. There is even a thriving
industry based on theories and training in better management. So when
St Luke relates one of Jesus’ parables about a manager we’re
on familiar territory.
However, when you look more closely at this parable, it may seem odd that
Luke included it in his gospel, especially when you look more closely
at the comments Jesus made after it. The important thing is to realise
where your first sympathies lie with the characters in this parable, and
where Jesus’ first hearers might have stood in relation to the characters.
We are given
the cast, like all good stories, at the beginning: there was a rich man
who had a manager and he was accused of mismanagement. Whose side do you
find yourself on straight away? The rich man’s? He was unlucky to
have a crooked manager. Let’s hope the manager is found out and
how the story is told: “charges were brought to him”. It does
not say that the rich man had a bad manager, it says that the manager
was accused of if mismanagement. So were the charges correct? Who brought
the charges? Did someone perhaps have a grudge against the manager? If
you have been a wrongly accused manager you might not necessarily be on
the rich man’s side. Furthermore, what happens next? The rich man
(ie the director or owner) tells the manager he is going to sack him even
before he has had a proper hearing! The rich man is beginning to look
unfair. He also seems to be unwise! He is unwise because the manager has
time to go away and prepare an account.
Now the story begins to get interesting! The manager wonders what he is
going to do for a living. He knows he is not physically strong enough
to be a labourer. The only alternative that he believes he has is begging
and he dreads the humiliation of that. His solution is to depend on his
wits and use the intervening time to his own advantage. So the manager
sets about his plan.
carefully how the story is told. The manager summons the debtors to his
master’s business. He doesn’t go around to them, cap in hand,
as it were. He maintains the impression that he is still in a position
of strength and that the debts are being reduced legitimately. Also he
summons them one by one – possibly giving them each the impression
that they alone are being given favourable terms.
But now comes the big surprise of the parable: the master commended the
dishonest manager. Why does he do this? Is the master himself crooked?
Does the master realise that he has been trumped and it is better to leave
the situation be? Is the master an “outsider” and realises
that in order to continue in business in that place he had better not
create more sympathy for the manager who was perhaps an “insider”
there? All we’re told is that the rich man commended his dishonest
manager for being shrewd. We might like to know what happened next –
did the manager keep his job after all when the rich man realised that
despite his dishonesty, he might be better keeping such a shrewd manager?
We must remember this was just a parable and told for a reason more than
simply being an entertaining story.
Luke then gives us a series of comments that Jesus’ made following
the telling of the parable. Yet it is not at all clear what he is really
saying. Vs. 9 says that we should be shrewd with wealth so that when we
no longer have it we will still get to heaven. Vvs.10-12 say that honesty
is best and that if a person is faithful with a little then they will
be given greater responsibility. Vs.13 says that when it comes to loyalty
you cannot be ultimately loyal to opposing causes, especially when it
comes to matters of eternal consequence – you cannot serve both
God and money. Perhaps the only common thread through all of this is that
wealth or money is something we must be careful to manage rather than
letting it manage us.
Even while we may continue to be puzzled by it the parable’s subject
is highly relevant these days. There has been a great of worry recently
due to financial mismanagement and injustice. The sub-prime mortgage crisis
in the USA is about unscrupulous lending to disadvantaged people. Lenders
have been taking advantage of poor people and it turns out to threaten
the financial stability of the whole economic system.
home the troubles at the Northern Rock building society have hit the headlines
and the decision of many central banks in different countries to bale
out banks and building societies has been difficult for many to understand.
There may be folks in our own congregation or who we know who have been
affected by this situation. The wealth we all depend on is important to
us because it affects our everyday life and those who depend on us.
story and thinking about it makes us feel unsettled, awkward and anxious.
Or are we missing the point entirely! There may actually be a great deal
of humour in this story and Jesus’ comments about it. What we laugh
at, what we find funny or what is intended as funny and doesn’t
appeal to our sense of humour can often reveal what we really think and
feel. A cartoon or joke that one person laughs at may offend another person.
As my father used to misquote: one man’s mate is another man’s
Jesus knew that humour revealed true attitudes.
You cannot get away from money and depending on it unless you live on
a desert island! So perhaps this parable is asking us to reflect on this
question: who do we ultimately make friends with through our use of what
we have? We may have to be shrewd – thinking and acting carefully.
We may have to deal with crooked people and dishonest situations because
life is like that. Sometimes Christians, as Jesus said, can be a bit naïve
about the real world! But through it all we need to make sure we stay
friends with God. How we do that is up to each of us!
© Rev Paul Smith