Frank had always loved nice stuff, but as an employee of FEMA for 32 years most of these things were unaffordable. Things had changed recently, though. His co-workers first noticed the new iPod. Then it was the new clothes, the week-long luxury cruise, and even the new car. Everyone figured it was a mid-life crisis; they had seen it before in others.
His co-worker, Matt, was suspicious, though. He peered into some of Frank’s expense account records, and he discovered a number of charges that he didn’t think were legitimate.
The next morning, Frank’s boss called him in. Frank was told that he had 24 hours to give an accounting for a long list of questionable expenditures.
Frank went pale. His hands got sweaty. As he walked back to his office, he knew he was in trouble. There was no way he could legitimize those charges. He knew that he would be fired tomorrow.
“What am I going to do?” Frank said to himself. “How will I find another job? I’m 54. I don’t want to take unemployment or welfare, and I don’t want to work at McDonalds.
He got an idea. He had friends. If he didn’t have his job anymore, he still had his friends. He started the plan in motion. He quickly arranged for five of them to receive generous hurricane relief checks and made sure that they were sent by the end of the day. He called his friends and told them to expect a little extra money because he was able to pull some strings.
The next day Frank turned in the feeble explanation of his expense reports. He was fired within the hour. Fortunately, Frank had some very grateful friends. One of them got Frank a new job with a higher salary. One of them paid Frank’s mortgage for three months.
Four weeks later Frank was called back into FEMA by his former boss. The fraudulent hurricane relief checks had been discovered. His boss went on about how immoral Frank’s actions were, but suddenly he stopped short. He said, “I’ve been thinking. Let’s keep this between us. I’m suspending any charges against you.”
Frank was stunned. He said, “Really? Why?”
Frank’s boss said, “Let’s just say I’ve never seen such a display of shrewdness before.”
The story you just heard may sound strange and slightly familiar at the same time. It is my attempt at modernizing one of the parables Jesus told – the Parable of the Shrewd Manager in
This parable has been defined by many as one of the most troublesome of Jesus’ parables. It raises a number of questions. Why would Jesus want us to follow the example of someone who cheats his master? How would you like it if someone taught your kid to imitate the practices of Enron’s former CEO?
This morning, we’re going to first take a closer look at this parable to understand the story, and then we’re going to look at its implications in our lives.
The story begins with a rich man whose manager took care of his business. Word got to the master, though, that the manager was being wasteful. The master called the manager in to his office and demanded an explanation. When confronted with the charge, the manager gave no answer. Instead of being immediately fired, though, the manager was given a window of opportunity. The master requested an audit to verify the charges leveled against the manager. The manager’s dismissal was inevitable, but it was not yet final or public. Time was short.
The manager panicked. He didn’t know what he would do after he lost his job. It would be embarrassing for someone who used to collect bills to become a temporary hired hand.
Suddenly, he figured out a plan. He called in his master’s debtors one by one and reduced their debts. Since he still had his position as manager, the changes in the debts were binding. With his actions, he knew that he had just made new friends who would gratefully help him in the future. The manager had used his resources with effort and imagination in looking out for his future well-being.
The master soon found out about what the manager had done. But instead of being furious, the master commended the manager. To us, the master’s reaction is unexpected and difficult to understand.
It’s important to note that the master did not commend him for his morality. The master did not say that what he did was a good thing. The master commended him specifically for his shrewdness. The master was impressed with how much effort and creativity the manager had used. The master was simply a defeated foe and had to admit the superior tactics of his adversary.
The most troublesome thing, however, is not the story. The biggest surprise is that Jesus uses this story as a positive example for His followers. Jesus says through this parable and the following verses that we should be shrewd like the manager. But instead of being shrewd for our own interests, we must be shrewd for God.
We are all managers. God has entrusted to each one of us temporary resources. These resources are described in verse 9 as worldly wealth. Our money, positions, relationships, spiritual gifts, time, and energy are all resources and forms of wealth.
As managers, we are to use our resources for God with effort and imagination. As Jesus says in
Shrewdness can be difficult to define. For some of us, shrewdness brings up images of shady car salesmen, politicians, and businesspeople. To be shrewd, however, means to use your resources with effort and imagination. Shrewdness is not a negative thing in itself. What matters is how we use our shrewdness. We must be shrewd for God.
In verse 8, Jesus says that Christians need to learn a lesson in shrewdness from the world. In the secular world there are a lot of people who successfully expend large amounts of effort and imagination in looking out for their own interests very successfully. Bill Bowerman shrewdly redefined running shoe design when he poured rubber into his waffle iron. Shrewd marketing created the frenzy around the “Tickle Me Elmo” doll. Andrew Fischer shrewdly auctioned off the empty space on his forehead to the highest bidder on e-Bay for $37,375.
Unfortunately, sometimes we Christians are not shrewd. Many Christians put much more effort and imagination into teaching in “real schools” than in teaching Sunday school. Some of us haphazardly run committee meetings in a way that would never fly in the secular world. We may present the Gospel to others with little thought and imagination.
We must be shrewd for God. Chuck Swindoll said, “Ministries cannot become great without dreamers who weary of only maintenance year in, year out. We need more [people] who have the creativity and tenacity to break with boredom and try the unusual.”
We should be shrewd in worshipping. Maybe you shrewdly figure out that you can more effectively pray while walking instead of sitting.
We should be shrewd in connecting. Maybe you shrewdly prepare a Sunday meal at home before going to church and then seek out new people to invite over after church.
We should be shrewd in serving. A shrewd Christian looks behind the beaches and big houses of
We should be shrewd in inviting. You might involve yourself with a secular group to develop relationships with unbelievers. We should scheme about how to bring the message of salvation through Jesus Christ to our community with the same effort and imagination that we use in developing a strategic plan for marketing our product in the secular world.
Shrewdness for God has eternal rewards. It’s only through the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ that any of us will find a place in heaven. We can’t get to heaven by anything that we do, no matter how shrewd it is. But Jesus says in verse 9 that we will be welcomed into eternity by the friends of God that we have made through our effort and imagination in serving God.
Examine your own life and determine how you can increase your shrewdness for God. Look at how God is calling you to serve him and review your resources. Becoming shrewder does not necessarily mean doing more. Many of us do things for God poorly because we are too busy. Being shrewd means doing a few things well with effort and imagination.
Be shrewd for God.
Mark Debowski is Associate Teaching Pastor at