Monday, June 11, 2012

Thou shalt not steal, unless Jesus says it's OK

The parable of the shrewd manager from Luke 16:1-15 was the last of the small group bible study in this series of parables.  I've done a lot of bible studies and, I have to admit, I've never done a study on this parable.  To be even more honest, I don't think our group really understands what Jesus was getting at with this one, but we tried.

Jesus told his disciples:   “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg– I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’

Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

This doesn't seem right, does it.  If I'm reading this correctly Jesus is telling his disciples it is ok to steal from your boss.  Yet, in the passage, the boss is commending the dishonest manager for his clever, albeit, unrighteous ways.  In fact, the boss says worldly people are more shrewd in dealing with other worldly people, than the people of the light.

What is Jesus trying to get across to his listeners (and us)?  I think Jesus is using reverse psychology on his listeners or, as my mother-in-law used to say, "You can learn as much from a bad example, as you can from a good example."  The shrewd manager has no desire to work and he has too much pride to beg.  What he does have going for him is his understanding of human nature.  He knows everyone loves a bargain.  Notice, the boss doesn't commend the shrewd manager for stealing from him.  No, the boss is commending the manager for the shrewdness he shows in knowing how to make his way in the world after being fired.  After all, the manager has already been fired.  Another thing that comes to mind is the quickness of the manager's mind.  Obviously, there wasn't a lot of time for the shrewd manager to think about what he was going to do to survive after losing his job.  He came up with this plan on the fly.  This is one smart cookie.

What does this story have to do with us (followers of Jesus)?  The first thing that came to my mind (because I'm still a bit self-centered) was how I steal from my boss and what Jesus must think of it.  Yes, I steal from my boss, too.  I've mentioned, here, that I write my blog while I'm at work.  Sometime that makes me feel as if I get paid for blogging.  In reality, this is stealing.  However, many times I blog about what I've learned in my bible study or about forgiveness or about gratitude and I have readers who are seekers of the truth regarding Jesus and the bible.  Which is the greater good (or lesser evil), stealing time (but still getting my work done) or sharing God's truth?  After all, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," Romans 3:23.  Maybe you think I'm trying to justify my actions.  I'm not, I'm trying to understand the parable and put it in today's world.  Another thing that came to my mind while studying this passage was the quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good."  Maybe Jesus is pointing our the shrewd manager's understanding of human nature and  the church's lack of willingness to try to understand the people, but focus only on the LAW.  Jesus was all about meeting people where they were.  One of his giant pet peeves was the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  They weren't able to get on board with Jesus and his point of view.

In regard to the quickness of the shrewd manager's mind, I think, Jesus may be reminding his disciples that his time with them is short and they need to listen closely and learn quickly.  Or maybe, Jesus is telling us that our time on earth is short and we must make the most of the opportunities to share the good news with others while we still have a chance.

I'm probably not helping you understand this parable, so I'll remind you of its context.  This story of the shrewd manager is grouped with three other parables:  The first is the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7), the second is the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10), and the third is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  The Parable of the Shrewd Manager comes last in this series.  In all these parables Jesus is talking about the value God places on people over things.  He knew the Pharisees were listening to him and looking to stop him from teaching.  His beef with the Pharisees was that they had lost their perspective and were more interested in the money and politics of their position and no longer focused on their relationship with the people and the people's relationship with their God.  He reminds the Pharisees (and us) in Luke 16:13, "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." 

I hope I didn't make this parable more confusing than it already is, although, I'm not sure that would be possible. 

346.  Hot weather is really here now
347.  Relaxing weekends and trying not to feel too guilty about not getting anything accomplished
348.  Willingness to part with the Lladro nativity set that I wanted so bad, but feels like "stuff"
349.  The desire God gives me to want to understand people so different from me
350.  Having God between me and my circumstances instead of having my circumstances between me and God


  1. ha...this is the nature of parables...they are to figure out...i am glad you gave context as that often will point to the answer...

  2. That's a tricky one to tackle.

  3. Simple. He is advising people to not hoard their wealth, but to gain friends with it. If you have no friends but a fair amount of money, and many friends but only a little, if you fall on your ass the friendship matters much more. It speaks of the cunning needed to survive in a cut-throat world. How earning favours from others can help you. But if you lose all your money with no friends, well then you are stuck. The people of that time, and also today, follow many virtues and morals, often of abstinence, have little friends and achieve nothing for love. He is speaking of influence and of pragmatism under the service of love, not to excuse the love of money, but to put it clearly under the rule of love, and the requirement to have social power to survive in this world (for people of the light to be cunning as serpents but innocent as doves). A dove without influence does not last long. This is exactly what he is saying, plainly speaking, to make use of the world's tools, without succumbing to the love of the tool itself. You cannot worship the two masters, because quite evidently those who hoard money do not so much have friends, but people who are forced into their service. If you have wealth coming in, he is saying focus on being generous. It is like a hint to disciples. Such as before I told you not to carry a sword, now I tell you to carry one. I do not think the hints were followed so well, as people are easily coerced into a majority interpretation. If you value my explanation and wish for any other ones, just ask me, as you will find I am a good source for it :P


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