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THE QUESTIONABLE MANAGER Luke 16:1-13

Introduction
Managers are very much a part of modern life. There are the high profile football managers who try and gain success for their teams and move on very quickly from one job to another. In most of the working world managers are a vital part of how an organisation works. There is even a thriving industry based on theories and training in better management. So when St Luke relates one of Jesus’ parables about a manager we’re on familiar territory.

A Closer Look
However, when you look more closely at this parable, it may seem odd that Luke included it in his gospel, especially when you look more closely at the comments Jesus made after it. The important thing is to realise where your first sympathies lie with the characters in this parable, and where Jesus’ first hearers might have stood in relation to the characters.

We are given the cast, like all good stories, at the beginning: there was a rich man who had a manager and he was accused of mismanagement. Whose side do you find yourself on straight away? The rich man’s? He was unlucky to have a crooked manager. Let’s hope the manager is found out and punished!

But notice how the story is told: “charges were brought to him”. It does not say that the rich man had a bad manager, it says that the manager was accused of if mismanagement. So were the charges correct? Who brought the charges? Did someone perhaps have a grudge against the manager? If you have been a wrongly accused manager you might not necessarily be on the rich man’s side. Furthermore, what happens next? The rich man (ie the director or owner) tells the manager he is going to sack him even before he has had a proper hearing! The rich man is beginning to look unfair. He also seems to be unwise! He is unwise because the manager has time to go away and prepare an account.

The Manager’s Quandry
Now the story begins to get interesting! The manager wonders what he is going to do for a living. He knows he is not physically strong enough to be a labourer. The only alternative that he believes he has is begging and he dreads the humiliation of that. His solution is to depend on his wits and use the intervening time to his own advantage. So the manager sets about his plan.

Again, notice carefully how the story is told. The manager summons the debtors to his master’s business. He doesn’t go around to them, cap in hand, as it were. He maintains the impression that he is still in a position of strength and that the debts are being reduced legitimately. Also he summons them one by one – possibly giving them each the impression that they alone are being given favourable terms.

An unexpected turn
But now comes the big surprise of the parable: the master commended the dishonest manager. Why does he do this? Is the master himself crooked? Does the master realise that he has been trumped and it is better to leave the situation be? Is the master an “outsider” and realises that in order to continue in business in that place he had better not create more sympathy for the manager who was perhaps an “insider” there? All we’re told is that the rich man commended his dishonest manager for being shrewd. We might like to know what happened next – did the manager keep his job after all when the rich man realised that despite his dishonesty, he might be better keeping such a shrewd manager? We must remember this was just a parable and told for a reason more than simply being an entertaining story.

Unexpected comments
Luke then gives us a series of comments that Jesus’ made following the telling of the parable. Yet it is not at all clear what he is really saying. Vs. 9 says that we should be shrewd with wealth so that when we no longer have it we will still get to heaven. Vvs.10-12 say that honesty is best and that if a person is faithful with a little then they will be given greater responsibility. Vs.13 says that when it comes to loyalty you cannot be ultimately loyal to opposing causes, especially when it comes to matters of eternal consequence – you cannot serve both God and money. Perhaps the only common thread through all of this is that wealth or money is something we must be careful to manage rather than letting it manage us.

Humour
Even while we may continue to be puzzled by it the parable’s subject is highly relevant these days. There has been a great of worry recently due to financial mismanagement and injustice. The sub-prime mortgage crisis in the USA is about unscrupulous lending to disadvantaged people. Lenders have been taking advantage of poor people and it turns out to threaten the financial stability of the whole economic system.

Closer to home the troubles at the Northern Rock building society have hit the headlines and the decision of many central banks in different countries to bale out banks and building societies has been difficult for many to understand. There may be folks in our own congregation or who we know who have been affected by this situation. The wealth we all depend on is important to us because it affects our everyday life and those who depend on us.

Perhaps this story and thinking about it makes us feel unsettled, awkward and anxious. Or are we missing the point entirely! There may actually be a great deal of humour in this story and Jesus’ comments about it. What we laugh at, what we find funny or what is intended as funny and doesn’t appeal to our sense of humour can often reveal what we really think and feel. A cartoon or joke that one person laughs at may offend another person. As my father used to misquote: one man’s mate is another man’s python.
Jesus knew that humour revealed true attitudes.

Conclusion
You cannot get away from money and depending on it unless you live on a desert island! So perhaps this parable is asking us to reflect on this question: who do we ultimately make friends with through our use of what we have? We may have to be shrewd – thinking and acting carefully. We may have to deal with crooked people and dishonest situations because life is like that. Sometimes Christians, as Jesus said, can be a bit naïve about the real world! But through it all we need to make sure we stay friends with God. How we do that is up to each of us!

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith

   


 
 

Lord of creation,
whose glory is around and within us:
open our eyes to your wonders,
that we may serve you with reverence
and know your peace at our lives' end,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen


 

 



Acknowledgements