The Parable of the Dishonest Manager

painting depicting the unjust steward
art by Andrey Mironov

Luke 16:1 – 13:

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. 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.               

 “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.”

An Unusual Parable

This parable is a little different from some others we’ve talked about that involve stewards or managers. Jesus does not identify Himself or the Father as a role in this parable.  In this case, both the master and the servant have their own flaws.

We’re introduced immediately to an individual let go for dealing poorly with his possessions. This manager has no backup plan, so he goes out and uses the master’s outstanding accounts to build favorable relationships with people who might be able to help him when unemployed. It then turns out that the master is impressed with this manager for his cleverness. The only resolution to the story is that Jesus comments on how worldly people deal with each other.

Our Application

He does not approve of the manager’s conduct; but he does tell us that the physical and the spiritual do intersect at the time. When we are spreading the Gospel, we are selling a product in a way. We can learn lessons from good salesmanship and apply them to our message. Good marketing can help us spread word about our congregation. This isn’t to say we resort to dishonesty; but it is to say there are good practices we can apply.

Then Jesus talks about trust for a while. He speaks of faithfulness and honesty, and He warns us against trying to serve two masters. A similar teaching is in Matthew 6:21 – 24 where Jesus says that our hearts reside where we place our treasures. That’s what lost the manager his job to begin with. He was trying to serve his master and himself equally. In the end, he found himself without a job, so he turned to be purely self-serving.

Jesus uses money here as an example to make us think about our priorities. How are we spending out time and resources? How are we investing ourselves day in and day out? Our lives here are short, and all of the resources and investments we have in this life will do us no good in the hereafter. Let’s make sure we’re putting our true investments in spiritual things and using our resources and opportunities in this life to bring others to God.