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Shrewdness: Learning from the Unprincipled Luke 16:1-13

By Randall L. Roberts
There's a certain way of doing things in this world: you have to take care of yourself.

The owner of a dry cleaning shop finds a $100 bill in a coat pocket, which places him in an ethical dilemma: should he keep all of it, or split it fifty/fifty with his partner?

One evening while taking a walk, I made an unbelievable discovery. Scattered along the street in front of our house, partially hidden by weeds and bushes, I found some money. A lot of money, in fact. There were ones, fives, tens, and even some $100 bills. When I counted it all up, I had almost $2,000!

I know your next question! "Did you keep it, or did you try to find the owner?"

Well, let me remind you. There's a certain way of doing things in this world. You have to take care of yourself. Besides, you know the saying: "Finders keepers, losers weepers."

What would you have done with the money?

Don't be too quick to answer! At least not until you consider the parable of the shrewd manager. Here Jesus seems to be saying that not only is there a certain way of doing business in the world, but that we ought to participate in it. He seems to be saying that we should live by the ethics of the world. And if that is the case, the last thing you should do is return the money.

The scene described in this parable was common. Many absentee landlords hired managers to oversee their affairs. The catch in this parable is that this manager is about to be fired because he is wasting his master's money. The word translated "wasting" is the same Greek word used of the prodigal son in Luke 15:13 -- "scattering" or "squandering." He obviously has no concern for his master's well-being. Now he is about to be fired. What will he do? He's too proud to beg, and too weak to work. He hits upon a survival scheme. He calls in several of his master's debtors.

"How much do you owe my master?"

"Eight hundred gallons of oil."

"Cross that out and write four hundred."

"And you, how much do you owe?"

"A thousand bushels of wheat."

"Erase that and write eight hundred."

What happens next is very surprising. The master finds out what the manager has done and commends him! You would expect him to be angry, but he congratulates the manager.

The manager's action is not particularly surprising. In a "dog-eat-dog world" you have to take care of yourself. But why does the master commend him? There's an expression: "It takes one to know one." A cutthroat person often admires this trait in other people. This parable is populated by some rather shady characters!

And what about Jesus? He not only commends what the manager did; he actually recommends His followers do the same! That is distressing! Why is Jesus recommending this sort of behavior?

To gain understanding, it will help to know that some parables make their point by similarity, such as: "The kingdom of heaven is like ...." Others use contrast to make their point. The man at the banquet is one example of contrast. When he is thrown out of the banquet for not wearing a wedding garment, listeners get the point -- don't be like this!

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