The Shrewd Manager

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By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy

“The steward, realizing that he will soon be without a job, makes some shrewd deals behind his master’s back by reducing the debt owed by several of the master’s debtors in exchange for shelter when he is eventually put out. When the master becomes aware of what the wicked servant had done, he commends him for his “shrewdness.””

And Jesus went on to say, “And so I tell you: make friends for yourselves with worldly wealth, so that when it gives out, you will be welcomed in the eternal home. v10Whoever is faithful in small matters will be faithful in large ones; whoever is dishonest in small matters will be dishonest in large ones. v11If, then, you have not been faithful in handling worldly wealth, how can you be trusted with true wealth? v12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else, who will give you what belongs to you?
v13″No servant can be the slave of two masters; such a slave will hate one and love the other or will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Read: Luke 16.1-13
The Parable of the Shrewd Manager. Jesus’ parable of the dishonest manager or steward contains a story about someone who, fearful of not finding any work after termination by his master, concocts a scheme that will put many of his master’s debtors in obligation to the steward, thus promising some kind of return. Jesus does not commend the man’s dishonesty, but does approve his shrewdness, asking that his followers practice a similar skill in handling worldly wealth. But Jesus then concludes with a warning about loving earthly wealth too much, warning that one cannot serve two masters.
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The parable begins with a rich man calling his steward before him to inform him that he will be relieving him of his duties for mismanaging his master’s resources. A steward is a person who manages the resources of another. The steward had authority over all of the master’s resources and could transact business in his name. This requires the utmost level of trust in the steward. Now, it may not be apparent at this point in the parable (but is made more evident later on), but the master is probably not aware of the steward’s dishonesty. The steward is being released for apparent mismanagement, not fraud. This explains why he is able to conduct a few more transactions before he is released and why he is not immediately tossed out on the street or executed.
The steward, realizing that he will soon be without a job, makes some shrewd deals behind his master’s back by reducing the debt owed by several of the master’s debtors in exchange for shelter when he is eventually put out. When the master becomes aware of what the wicked servant had done, he commends him for his “shrewdness.”
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The text itself provides several interpretations of the employer’s commendation, I can cite two. First, “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” (16:8). In other words, Jesus’ disciples — often referred to as “children of light” (see John 12:36) — could learn something about acting prudently from the “children of this age.” Second, what they could learn from the “children of this age” has to do with “making friends for themselves” by means of “dishonest wealth” so that those new friends might “welcome them into the eternal homes” (16:9). Instead of using “dishonest wealth” to exploit others (as the rich do), disciples are to use wealth to “make friends for themselves.” If friendships are based on reciprocal and egalitarian relationships, then releasing other people’s debts not only enriches them, but also establishes a new kind of reciprocity with them. The Filipino concept of utang na loob, which literally translated means an “inner debt” or a “debt of inner gratitude,” perhaps captures something of what is being established here — a debt rooted in the shared reciprocity of friends. In Jesus’ mind, relationships are more important than money and should be served by money rather than the other way around.
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In the light of what Jesus has to say concerning wealth, every one of us must do some hard thinking and sincere praying about our attitude towards material possessions. The gospel is especially warning us against making money the goal of our existence. Money plays such an important role in our daily lives that it influences us deeply, whether we have it or not. In a world where values are out of focus, money talks, opens doors and is a voice that is always heard and listened to. Given the emphasis society places on having lots of riches, it’s hard to remain indifferent to its power. Money is something we have to use but, at the same time, watch, in case it gets a grip on us and destroys us by becoming our god. At the end of our life, what will count is the person we are and the good we have done, and not what we have accumulated in material possessions.
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The saying, ‘Money is the root of all evil,’ contains a certain element of truth. When money dominates our lives, we easily forget the distant goal of life’s destiny. Our values become muddled and our Christian commitment to God is drained of all its strength. Greed creeps into our hearts, deadens our conscience and dulls the sense of responsibility to those in need of the community. This gospel seeks to discover whether God is taking first place in our lives or whether pursuit or riches is a more important consideration. If we are using our earthly wealth to attain our heavenly goal, then we are on the right road. This is the only real possession worth striving for, as death cannot take it away.
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Experience teaches that the longing for happiness and security is not satisfied by any created thing. Our life is not made secure by material wealth because we have a heavenly destiny. We are here today and gone tomorrow, but we are here for a purpose. The closer we come to eternity the more the material possessions lose their value. When life draws to an end, riches prove worthless and have got to be left behind. We can take nothing with us from this life except the good we have done. The gospel message is summed up in the quote, ‘Money is an instrument that can buy everything but happiness, and purchases a ticket to every place but heaven.’ (Desmond Knowles)
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From the parable of the unjust/shrewd steward, we realize we must learn how to use properly the worldly things God has entrusted to our care.
Let us pray.
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Proper 20 ECP-BCP)


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