A Strange Story Told
A Strange Story Told
Words of Faith 10-17-18
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2018
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.  So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'
 "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg--  I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
 "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
 " 'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied.
"The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.'
 "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?'
" 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied.
"He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'
 "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.
 "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 servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.  He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.
Luke chapter 15 revealed the heart of God FOR the lost. Chapter 16 reveals much of the heart OF the lost. Jesus tells one of the most difficult parables in all of the Gospels. The most quoted parable of Jesus, the parable of the Prodigal Son, is followed by what is perhaps the least quoted, or certainly the least understood. Jesus continued to be surrounded by religious people who did not seem to have a clue of what God and His Kingdom were really all about.
Jesus told this strange story. A wealthy man discovered that his top manager had been wasting his possessions. We don't know the nature of the dishonesty but his days in management were over. The master called in his manager and fired him. He asked him to make a final accounting of all transactions.
What a scary situation to be in! The manager suddenly realized that he was going to be out on the street. So he got a great idea. It was his last day of work so he figured that if he discounted the debts owed to his master then the next day when he was on the street he would at least have some friends.
So this manager, on his last day of work took a debt worth about three years’ wages, or about $54,000 today, and cut it in half. Then another debt worth about nine years’ wages, or $162,000 today, was cut by 20 percent. This guy was having a big time on his last day of work giving away his master's money. This is the employee you really don't want working for you!
But the surprise came when the master commended the manager because he acted shrewdly! And Jesus used the man as an example of how we who are in the faith should be shrewd in our dealings in matters of the Spirit. "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.”
Excuse me? Am I missing something here? I think I liked the last parable better, Jesus, where the loving Father was watching for the lost son. Could we go back there? But Jesus was not back there. He wants us to learn something from this strange story.
What was Jesus saying? Was Jesus commending dishonesty as long as it is for a good cause? Was Jesus saying it is okay to cheat your boss as long as you are shrewdly looking out for number one and securing for yourself friends? Is it okay to steal from your company as long as you are reaching friends for the Kingdom of God? Was Jesus really just using the example of a bad person not to illustrate their goodness but simply their shrewdness? Or, are we missing something here?
Actually, many scholars agree that we probably are missing part of the picture. There is a piece of the cultural puzzle that is missing. The manager was accused of wasting the possessions of the master. It was not uncommon in that day for a manager to charge a hefty commission when transacting business on behalf of his master. High interest or "usury" was against Jewish law but it was common to go around that law as a manager by overcharging the commissions related to a transaction. The manager actually could do this while the owner of the goods could not.
The mismanagement that prompted the dismissal may even have consisted in the manager creating a situation in which the master's debts were never going to be repaid because of the steep commissions he was charging. This would be a waste of the master's possessions.
So what the manager did was really quite shrewd and may have actually been the first honest and decent act in his whole life! Don't misunderstand. The manager did not have a conversion experience like Zaccheus in chapter 19. He was completely self-motivated. But even though he had been a dishonest man, he did a shrewd thing to prepare for his future, and this was something that drew the commendation of the master.
Why the commendation? Was the master simply amused that the manager would act in shrewd desperation on the day he was fired? We all know that there is a point at which debt becomes insurmountable to the debtor and unrecoverable by the lender. At that point any collection of the debt is usually a good thing even at a loss. Collection agents live off this concept.
The man offered the debtors a chance to be free of that debt at a discount, and they scraped up what it took! Suddenly the manager was coming in with money from debts that may never have been collected. Even at a discount, that was a good deal. And shrewd.
The manager may have been shrewd enough to see that it was his own mismanagement that was getting him fired and by correcting the wrong he would at least make friends with the debtors so that in the future he would not be all alone! It may well be that this act also saved his job, but we do not know that because Jesus moves on.
Now, please don't misunderstand. Jesus was not saying that this man had really changed or that he even did this act for the right motives. But he did have the sense to see where things were going and to act shrewdly! And we should act as shrewdly in matters of the Kingdom. For the next few days we will look at what that might mean for us. The question will be: What is Kingdom shrewdness?
For us today, we can seek the leading of the Lord to show us the ways in which He wants us to reach the lost and serve the hurting.
Father God, show me the ways that You want me to serve You. Show me the ways in which You want me to be shrewd about the ways I might reach out to those who are hurting and that are lost. In Jesus' name.
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