Episode 102 - The Parable of the Dishonest Manager - Opening Up the Gospels

Hi I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to episode 102 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last two episodes we’ve looked at Luke 15 where we saw three parables that Jesus gave in Bethany Beyond the Jordan, including one of Jesus’ most well-known stories, the parable of the prodigal son. We saw how the main theme in each of them was the hardness of the hearts of the Pharisees and their intense hatred for God. Remember, they were seeking to kill Jesus just a short while ago at the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem. Jesus had slipped out of their hands and was ministering to Israel’s outcasts, the ones the Jewish authorities discounted as unrighteous sinners and therefore unworthy of inheriting God’s promises to Israel. In contrast, the Pharisees and scribes thought themselves perfectly righteous and saw no need to repent. Not only that, they were scoffing at some of the ones who were actually bearing the fruits of repentance, the tax collectors and sinners. Through the three parables, Jesus is ensuring that they all know how God rejoices when true repentance happens. He’s after the tender hearts of His people, not a perfect outward appearance with pride and hatred for God on the inside. Well in today’s episode we’re going to continue to look at Jesus’ words in this teaching section from Luke 16. The themes we’ve already seen will continue to carry through this portion of teaching as well, and I think it’s so important for us to remember that Jesus is talking to the same crowd from Luke 15. We’ll see Him condemning the Pharisees for their pride, their arrogance, their love of money, and their desire for wealth and influence and ease in this age. And in contrast, we’ll see Him instructing the tax collectors and sinners, the ones who were repentant and humble, and sought to have a contrite heart that finds its reward in the age to come when God establishes the kingdom and brings to pass all the promises He made to Israel through the covenants. Today in Luke 16 we’ll begin looking at two specific parables Jesus gives, the parable of the unjust manager or steward and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We’re going to spend a few episodes looking at Luke 16 because these parables are often misunderstood, and I believe that’s because they are often read out of the context of not just the particular part of Jesus’ ministry we’ve been looking at, but even the whole story of the Gospels. Remember, this section of teaching began in Luke 15:1 where tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to hear Jesus’ words, but the scribes and the Pharisees were grumbling because Jesus was receiving the seemingly unclean and unrighteous to Himself. So before we actually look at the parables themselves, check this out. Both stories have the same subject – unrighteousness. The first parable, the story of a dishonest manager, is addressed to the tax collectors and sinners. As we’ll see, the manager unrighteously uses what had been committed to him by his master. The second parable, the story of a rich man and another man named Lazarus, is addressed to the self-justifying, grumbling Pharisees. In that story, an unrighteous rich man uses everything he has for himself and leaves poor, sick Lazarus to starve and die at his own doorstep. In the first story, Jesus is giving a lesson, and in the second, Jesus is giving a warning. In the first, the tax collectors and sinners are to learn from their previous life of sin and in the second, the Pharisees are being warned about their hard hearts and complete lack of love for God. And what we’ll also see is that in both parables, just like the story of the prodigal son in the last episode, we shouldn’t expect to be able to match up the characters and events and images in the parables with Biblical truth. They are stories Jesus is telling to make His point and cause the hearts of the people to be made soft or made hard towards Him. So with that in mind, let’s pick up today in Luke 16: “He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” (Luke 16:1–8 ESV) Well as I mentioned already, this specific story is focused towards the tax collectors and sinners in the crowd, the ones who were drawing near to Jesus to hear Him. The first verse we read confirms that. Now tax collectors were despised in Israel for many reasons. I mentioned some of them back in episode 59 when I talked about the calling of Matthew. Their job required them to collect the land and sea taxes for the Romans. Many tax collectors were dishonest, collecting much more than what Rome required, which they just kept for themselves. I think that simple fact right there can shed so much light on the story Jesus is telling. So what happens? The manager of the wealth had charges brought against him and gets fired by his master. Notice the word Jesus uses here in verse 1. He said that the manager was “wasting” the rich man’s possessions. The exact same word in the Greek is used back in the story of the prodigal son, when the younger son went to another country and “wasted” (or other translations might say “squandered”) his possessions. So there’s an obvious connection between the stories Jesus is telling. So this manager goes and tries with all prudence to settle the accounts that others had with his former boss, because he realizes he isn’t strong enough to earn his own living and he is too ashamed of himself to sit in the street and beg for money. And so what happens? The master commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. In other words, he was wise, he was sharp, he was prudent – his actions showed he had a tremendous amount of care for his future. The master didn’t commend his former steward for his dishonesty… The guy deserved to be fired because he was dishonest. But he did whatever he could to keep a good reputation among the people he used to deal with. Does that make sense? Let’s look at the next couple of verses in Luke 16: “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:8–9 ESV) Here’s where Jesus gives the point of the story – He is essentially saying that people who don’t care about or think at all about their future in the age to come always choose the most effective means to attain what they’re after in this age. It’s through that wisdom and shrewdness that they get what they’re after, because they’re not restrained by any other consideration. Yet the “sons of light”, the Pharisees and the ones who supposedly possessed the Law and the way to eternal life, were not heeding the call to repentance and were not exercising that same kind of wisdom and prudence in light of their future. So Jesus tells the tax collectors and sinners, the ones who were unlike the Pharisees and were actually listening to Jesus, that they too ought to be prudent and wise and shrewd like the manager in the story. This is a very practical lesson for them, because many of them were dishonest, also just like the manager in the story. The “wealth of unrighteousness” or the money they made from being dishonest will certainly fail and amount to nothing in the end, Jesus says, and it won’t profit them anything in the age to come. So these new followers of Jesus ought to act with the same prudence as the worldly man in the story not for recognition or fame or comfort in this age, but in order to be richly welcomed into the everlasting age to come. The Talmud, the Jewish commentary on the Law, actually had a well-known phrase that backed up this idea, that said that there are certain things that a man enjoys the interest in this world, or the benefits, so to speak, while the capital remains for the world to come. The phrase “mammon of unrighteousness” or as it’s translated in ESV, “unrighteous wealth” has many analogies and even an exact transcript in other Jewish writings called the Targum. So in the same way that the manager prudently used his position and the wealth to “gain friends” so that he would be provided for in the future, Jesus is telling dishonest tax collectors to prudently use their unrighteous wealth to “gain friends”, metaphorically speaking, so that when the wealth comes to an end and they die, they can be confident that their deeds would have honored God and they would have a rich welcome in the resurrection and kingdom in the age to come. Let’s keep reading in Luke 16: ““One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.”” (Luke 16:10–13 ESV) What’s Jesus saying here? If someone fails in their service of God in matters in this age – in other words, if he was not faithful in “the unrighteous wealth” in the language of the parable, could he in fact inherit the riches of the age to come and be a steward there? Wouldn’t his unfaithfulness in the lesser things imply that he was unfit for the greater things? Jesus is saying that it is impossible to give one’s loyalty to money and to God at the same time. Why is Jesus saying all this? This isn’t just a lesson for the tax collectors now… Who else is hanging around the crowds listening to Jesus? The Pharisees, of course. And the Pharisees loved money. They claimed to love God, yet they loved money and influence and ease in this age more than God. They were supposedly the righteous stewards of the Law and the covenant, yet they were being completely unfaithful to that stewardship because they loved their position and their money more than God. So once again, just like we saw in Luke 15, we see these two basic heart postures being contrasted – One absolutely loves money and wealth and influence and is self-righteous, and the other seeks to be humble and contrite and repentant. In the next episode, we’ll continue on in Luke 16 and look at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which will be directed towards the Pharisees.