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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Can Money Keep You from Jesus?

Luke 16:1-9 (ESV) 1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

This is one of the more difficult parables to understand. I appears to praise a worker for his dishonesty but I think there is much more here than is initially revealed. Those who originally heard this parable would have had the larger context which would have revealed it more clearly than those reading it in the 21st Century.

Let's try to put it in context. The manager has mismanaged the accounts. There is no indication that he has stolen anything. He has done a poor job of keeping the accounts and is about to be fired. He knows that he has had a nice "desk job" for some time and cannot work as a common laborer. He apparently has no friends or family who will take him in. He moves quickly before he loses his job.

He goes to those who owe his master and cuts their bills so that they will pay quickly. He has learned the concept of "today and only today the price is . . . ." The people are glad to have their bills cut to the point that they will pay gladly and be very appreciative of this manager.

The master praises the manager for his shrewdness because he has made a way for himself after he is no longer employed. No master would praise a manager for losing money no matter how shrewd he was. Therefore, I believe manager was discounting the price of these bills according to his own commission. This way the master gets all that is owed to him but the soon to be fired manager has a means of surviving.

The parable deals with money and eternal life. Those who claim to have faith often hold onto their money as if it will give them peace. No one ever takes the money of this world into heaven. The shrewd use of this money is seen in giving it away so that a place for life after this life (which was the present employment of the manger in this case).

Jesus was saying that the people of the world understand this. They will get favors from others with their money so that they can be sustained or even make more money later. They see beyond their present circumstances. Religious people often fail to understand this. They hold onto their money and do not prepare for eternal life. They cannot see that holding onto their money can prevent them from eternal life.

Thus, the manager is shrewd for he has given up the temporal gain of his commission for the long term gain of obtaining favor.

Money is not evil but the want and hoarding of it is. Many will never see Jesus because of their desire for money.


Anthony Chia said...

Ps Prentis' 1st para. after opening verses quotation: "This is one of the more difficult parables to understand. I appears to praise a worker for his dishonesty but I think there is much more here than is initially revealed." Indeed, it is so, and many struggled with this parable, which is commonly called the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. As minimum, this parable MUST be taken up to verse 9, and cannot stop at verse 8, which some preachers often did. To me, we should go all the way to verse 15 which ends with "... What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." What is that which is highly valued among men but is detestable in God’s sight, that Jesus was referring to?

I beg to defer on the part that Ps Prentis stated he believes the manager was discounting the price of those bills according to the manager’s own commission. I have done up an extensive exposition of this Parable, taking it all the way to verse 15, on the request of a sister-in-Christ, back in 2009. It is a worthwhile read, and so, I leave the link here:

To me, it is clearly stated in verse 8 that the manager is dishonest; and dishonesty (double mentions) was again talked about in verse 10. Think about this: If I forgo my commission, will I be called dishonest? Do we honestly think the manager in question who was fretting over his livelihood, be so good as to forgo his commission that he obviously needed, for he still could not be sure, although he was hoping, that any of his master's customers would employ him? In addition, just look at verses 6 & 7; you tell me if you think cutting the bills by 50% for 800 gallons of oil, and 20% for 1,000 bushels of wheat, respectively, can be done out of the commissions for those bills! You sell 800 gallons of oil, and your commission comes up to 400 gallons! A more reasonable imagination would be this: The manager was making unauthorised discounts (unauthorised, for he was already no longer manager, and they were too excessive) to receivables, thinking that if he showed reduced figures for the receivables, and collected them, the master would not notice them, a clearly dishonest move, but a shrewd one.

The sister who “commissioned” me, was then particularly interested in verse 9, which she was most inclined to read as God’s approval of using money to build “guan-xi” to get ahead in this life. No, verse 9 is NOT the metaphor of the parable, it is the “thing”; the corresponding metaphor started in verse 4. Verse 9 is talking about using our earthly resources to gain for us friends who would welcome us when we get to Heaven.

Do take the time to read my article referred to above, and you will know, what is that which is highly valued among men but is detestable in God’s sight in verse 15. Anthony Chia, high.expressions

Prentis said...

Many scholars question whether this parable should be extended to verse 15. I don't think so. There are two main points about money. It is not necessary to tie the two together.

The "dishonest" manager is not being called dishonest because of his act of being shrewd. That would be praise for a ungodly act. Jesus does not do so. The word so often translated dishonest is "adikias." Its most literal meaning is "injustice." I would translate it as "unrighteous" for the sake of English though dishonest is a fair rendering of the word.
The point of the parable was that the "unrighteous" know that they must make favor with others in order to have a means of survival after their money is gone.
Jesus was pointing out to the "righteous" that they too must give up the things of this world to be welcomed in "eternal" dwellings.