St Luke 16: 1-18 Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” Then the manager said 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. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; 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.
‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
‘The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.
Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Reflection Jesus had a habit of catching his disciples unawares. Sometimes they felt that they had to take him aside privately and ask him to explain what he had said further. I wonder if they dared to question him, when he told them the story about the shrewd manager.
If we treat the parable as an allegory where every element corresponds to something in ‘real life’, Jesus could be praising dishonesty, sloppy work or both. However, sometimes Jesus used parables to illustrate one specific point. (For example in the parable of the unjust judge, when Luke felt the need to tell us what the parable was about.)
Perhaps in this parable Jesus just wanted us to see that in a crisis, the unreliable manager did well, if you judge him as a crafty manager, whereas the ‘children of light’ had not been doing so well as disciples. Woops! Even the unreliable manager is making a better fist of being a crafty manager, than they are of being good disciples.
Jesus’ first disciples found that the right path for a disciple can be difficult to find. They had plenty to learn and to unlearn and so they had to work at their discipleship, casting aside assumptions and discerning afresh each day.
The same goes for us. We’re no better at being disciples than they were, even though we have the advantage of having the Bible in our hands day by day. We also have two thousand years of Church practice, behind us, though that may not always be an advantage. In the end, like the first disciples, we each ultimately have to take responsibility for our own discipleship.
Maybe we should take note of Jesus’ comments about being faithful in a little, and work hard at the little things, and the bigger things will hopefully follow.
Prayer Living Lord Jesus, Show us how to follow you more closely than yesterday. Help us to take the next step and not to worry about the one after. Guide us for today. Grant us discernment for tomorrow. That we may do your will and walk in your way. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The Rev’d Jacky Embrey, Bolton and Salford Missional Partnership