What is commonly called the Parable of the Dishonest Steward or Manager in Luke 16:1-9 has been called the hardest parable to interpret. Some of the people in our women’s ministry struggled with it. This is how I attempted to provide some assistance.
15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you (according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3
If Paul wrote things that are hard to understand, Jesus said things that are hard to understand. That should not surprise us, particularly in light of the quotations from Isaiah 6 regarding parables. See Mt. 13:14ff.
7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (WCF, I)
This is one of the least clear passages. It is probably most closely connected with the Parable of the Prodigal Sons by proximity and vocabulary, as well as the Unmerciful Servant.
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. 2 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.’ 3 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. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 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.’ 8 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. 9 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.
Is this Jesus’ commentary on the parable?
10 “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. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 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.”
Robert Capon calls this the hardest parable in The Parables of Grace.
Capon sees the connection with the Prodigal Son in that both he and the dishonest manager were wasteful. Both then came to themselves after coming to the end of themselves: destitution and impending destitution. One went home to be received, the other tried to make a way to be received. One sought forgiveness thru humiliation of self, the other mercy by showing mercy.
Capon notes this is the reverse of the Unmerciful Servant. There mercy flows top down. Here it flows from the bottom up.
Capon sees the Dishonest Manager as a Christ-figure thru his “death”. He makes much of Christ as “sinner” for us. But that was by imputation, not by act. So … I’m not liking his move.
Leon Morris sees the parable in a group of teaching on money. It is not part of the series of parables on lost things (sheep, coin, sons). “This is notoriously one of the most difficult of all the parables to interpret.”
Many think Jesus was commending his decisiveness, not necessarily the actions themselves.
He puts the parable in context of the questionable practice of charging interest to fellow Israelites called usury. They argued that if the other Israelite had anything he wasn’t destitute and therefore could be charged interest in order to make money. This seems to be an unbiblical loophole.
The steward or manager would tack interest on to the bond on the original transaction. This manager, discovering he was about to be fired, actually removed the interest from the bonds, bringing the owner into compliance with the law, and gaining favor from the borrowers. The owner, in pursuing any claim would have to admit to usury. He admitted the man’s shrewedness.
This parable was spoken to his disciples, and not the Pharisees like Luke 15.
The take away for the disciples to was use the money they had, even if gained by questionable practices in the past, for spiritual purposes. Use it wisely for good purposes, just as worldly people use it wisely for their worldly purposes. Our faith should affect how we use our money (and gain it in the future). A good illustration of this would be the tax collector Levi.
In the follow up lesson we are not to put earthly treasure above eternal treasure. Choose whom you will serve- God or money- because you can’t serve both. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we see the danger of serving money instead of God.
Wilcock notes that as this man was certain he was going to be fired, we all can be certain that we will die. We must make the right use of the opportunities life presents us. Use what belongs to this “present evil age” (unrighteous mammon) to gain an inheritance, a welcome, in the age to come.
Leon Morris’ analysis makes the best sense of the context to me. It also keeps Jesus from affirming dishonesty. This is one of the passages, being hard to understand, that we should be humblest about our interpretation.