Imagine this story.
A rich man calls in his business manager to say that he’s heard rumours regarding him being careless with the moneys of the rich man’s estate.
So, the manager thinks to himself, "This doesn’t look good for me - I might get fired over this.
But I can't keep up the mortgage payments if I lose my job and I'm not really the type for manual labour. Begging’s out, so I'd better come up with a very good Plan B.
If I can keep my job, I'll still have a place to sleep each night."
So, he decides to call in his boss's biggest debtors and forgives the debtors a portion of what they owe his boss - in order for them to be personally indebted to him (that is, the manager).
When the rich man finds out about how his scheming manager has reduced the bills of his debtors behind his back, he calls in his dishonest manager and says, "Now, I can see that you’ve done some seriously shrewd thinking on this and even though I was about to fire you, I can see that maybe what you’ve done will be good for me in the long run."
And as if to amplify the moral of the story from Luke 16, Jesus, says, "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes."
Hang on a minute, what’s Jesus talking about?
He seems to be praising dishonesty and cheating in this passage, and we know that clashes completely with our understanding of what God wants from his people.
Did we just hear Jesus say dishonest wealth is great and that honour among thieves is a virtue?
Is that really what this parable means?
As often happens in the gospels, Jesus draws us in with a story and then turns everything upside down – just to make his point even more strongly.
He often told stories about what the Kingdom of Heaven would be like, but here, he’s telling us what the world is like and how we need to be wise and not naïve.
We’re expecting the dishonest steward to be in big trouble for writing down the bosses’ debts, but it may well have been that the rich man was actually trying to extort more than what was originally borrowed, and so the manager was just asking the people to pay what they really owed.
In biblical times, it wasn’t uncommon for powerful men, who would have held a monopoly on resources, to manipulate their books to make it appear as though their debtors owed more than they actually did.
In order for a wealthy businessman to pad his pockets for an extra profit here or there, he would need a business manager who was less than scrupulous, too.
So, the manager may have been knowingly padding the books for his boss, and, of course, with all that padding going on, a less-than-honest steward, of your less-than-honest business owner, might have been inclined to make a nice little padded landing for himself as well.
The key point is that he foresaw what was coming, and he used his position, and the possessions under his stewardship, to build good relationships for the future.
So, I guess we could say that he was actually being a bit more shrewd - than dishonest.
This is exactly what the dynamics of this story is all about.
We have a shady guy, working for a dishonest businessman, so when the scheming rich man suspects his business manager might be more of a scoundrel than even he bargained for, he gives the man a chance to prove himself.
The steward sees this as a battle he's not likely to win, so he decides to out-scheme a schemer by pulling out the book of debtors and making some calls.
He rings up the first guy and says, "How much does my boss say you owe him?"
To which the man replies, "A hundred jugs of olive oil."
"Well, if he says it's a hundred, it's probably more like fifty, so pay that and consider yourself even with my boss."
He does the same thing with the next debtor.
When the wealthy landowner discovers that he has been out-gamed by a gamer - the man he was about to fire - the rich man had to begrudgingly respect the shrewd steward for it.
After all, his coffers are now full, his accounts receivable are at zero and his customers are happy, because they got a discount and the rich man's clients have now bonded to his manager - the very guy he hired to be shrewd in business, turns out to be even shrewder than he thought.
At the end of the day, this guy’s worth keeping, the perfect type to run this type of operation, somebody who is both a "dishonest steward" and a "shrewd manager" at the same time.
But why does that earn such high praise from Jesus?
Well, actually, he doesn’t. As Jesus points out, none of this earthly wealth matters anyway.
How much money we have, means nothing to God - it’s how we conduct ourselves around money that’s important.
Jesus says, "No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth."
Perhaps the Parable of the Dishonestly Shrewd Manager really is really just an entertaining story, with a surprise ending and a great moral – and that shouldn't surprise us, because Jesus was a great storyteller and he could certainly captivate a crowd.
The main thrust of this parable is actually quite clear: “People of faith, look ahead - be far sighted.“
Do we know where we’re heading, or what lies in front of us? If we have any inkling at all, the only smart thing to do is to get ready for whatever lies ahead - and that includes in the spiritual dimension, not just the worldly one.
Be as astute about the practice of your faith, just as the amoral manager was about the dealings he had with others.
In particular, astutely use whatever worldly possessions you have for the glory of God, in the same astute manner as the unscrupulous manager did for himself.
Our future is the Kingdom of God and that means serving Christ in all of the manifold activities of life.
It’s about loving our neighbours and even our enemies, living the eternal life, the boundless life, here and now, for that is the destiny to which we’re turned, tuned and committed.
As Jesus went on to say, money itself isn’t bad, but make sure that it serves your true purpose and destiny.
Don’t despise money, but use it for the glory of God.
Jesus seems to be saying to us: “Open your eyes and see where you are in the world, being aware of what lies ahead. Be as frank with yourself and as clear headed as those astute operators in the secular world.”
But we can’t let these thoughts become our master, for God is our only true master and we have to remain true to him and the lives he’s fashioned for us.
So we can see that for a lot of our lives, we’re like the unjust stewards from this story.
We’re rightly counted among the unjust, the unrighteous, the unprofitable, and yes, at times the amoral!
We might think that if God really doesn’t commend this kind of behaviour, then there’s not much hope for us.
That is, if we believe that we’re no better than them.
If the God of Jesus doesn’t see in us something worthy of his affirmation, then we might as well surrender all hope, cease coming to church and forever give up gathering at the Lord’s Table.
But, and it’s a wonderful “but” this time, God does think there is something worthwhile in us and we must never give up. Instead, we must keep showing him that we are trying to follow his ways.
Only then can we come to his table, eat and drink and be thankful.
Remember - we can’t serve 2 masters, so make sure that you choose wisely. Use the gifts that God has given you to benefit others, not for your own pleasures.
Jesus tells us to be wise with the little things and then we will be trusted with the big things. We have to act with integrity, as we don’t want to end up like the dishonest manager, only seeking to line our own pockets.
I’ll leave it up to you, now, to search you own hearts and see where you can improve your life in this regard - to further the kingdom that God has given us right here in this world.