Luke 16:19-31: The Dishonest Manager–praised for his astuteness, not his dishonesty

“The Parable of the Dishonest Manager” or, with the older title, “The Unjust Steward.”  An owner is wealthy, and others relay rumors to him about his accountant, who is squandering his assets.  This manager is stealing by overcharging on his commissions.  Unlike a wage by the hour or collecting a salary, he earns his income by garnering a percentage of what he sells to his owner’s clients.

The owner decides to fire him for dishonesty and orders him to turn over the accounts.  Now realizing he’s killed his prospects for a future paycheck, this manager contacts those with the largest debt.  The manager needs to move fast before the boss reviews the balance sheet.  A narrow window of opportunity opens before him.

The bookkeeper recognizes he lost his job, so he examines the alternatives.  No more a spry and agile man, he can’t dig ditches, and he doesn’t want to go begging either.  Not if he can do otherwise.  So, he takes the only course he can.

Earlier, he swindled his boss, adding on illicit percentages.  Now, he focuses on the future because, once he’s fired, who will hire him?  No longer peeking back, he gazes forward.  Oh, this man is a smart one.  With his position gone, he’s a dead man walking, and so he sides on the prospect of what may be, reducing his fees to zero.

The records will now be made right.  For the manager can show he isn’t heaping on despicable overcharges, cheating the owner.  How?  By slashing his allotted amount to nothing.  Perhaps, the stories of this accountant robbing him silly aren’t all correct.

The customers will also be amazed.  For this former crook will meet with them and now they will owe less money.  Tell me, who doesn’t like the surprise of an ample discount as a bonus?  Those patrons of olive oil and grain will think of the owner in a new way.

So, the boss wins.  For his estate manager pays back what he stole in the past by refusing to receive his earnings.  The buyers are also happy, receiving a huge, unexpected markdown.  The manager triumphs, as well, setting the record right, with real figures.  All is now well.  A field goal, a touchdown, and home run in one quick move.  Yes, he is a crafty one!

Now, the unsettling story ends, with Jesus expressing to the listeners the owner’s reaction.  The owner praises the manager for being astute.  For us, “shrewd” carries a negative connotation; not so in the Greek of the New Testament.

So, why did Jesus praise the manager?  Well, he changed course.  The word for this is “repentance.”  The swindler turns away from his old habits, which cost him his job.  Reduced to nothing, becoming the walking dead, he is now free, risking all for the future.  Only what lies ahead matters when your past profits fade before you.

The awaiting doom causes this schemer to repent.  For how he lived before, by embezzling funds, only led to a ruined livelihood.  The swindling thief deserves to lose his job, for he is unfaithful at managing the boss’s money.  The word portrait painted is the life of someone before he comes to rely on Christ, before dying to the ways of the world and rejecting his sin.

Once the deceitful manager realizes he is dead to his job, he is now liberated to live for what is to come.  So why not gamble everything?  For the first time, he conducts business, delighting the property owner, and negotiating like a wizard.

Only when the thieving manager lives as a walking corpse, is he showing us a picture of the believer’s life.  How so?  The Apostle Paul enlightens us in the book of Romans.  Those baptized are baptized into Jesus’ sin-slaying death (Romans 6:3).

In baptism, you died to sin, becoming the manager who now understands he is dead.  For in baptism, the Holy Spirit joined you into Christ’s death on the cross.  Through the Spirit-empowered washing, God tethers you to Jesus, surpassing a relationship and bringing you into a communion with Him.  Like the money manager, dead to the past, turning toward the future, eternity now busts open for you!

By being buried in Christ’s death, the future of heaven becomes real!  Still, more exists to being dead than being dead because God does give you a silver lining.  “Consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).  No wonder Jesus also calls baptism a birth from above (John 3:3).

In the cleansing waters, now lifeless to sin, you prosper under God the Father, in His Son.  Now you become the wheeling-and-dealing manager.  Like him, how can you lose?  Believe this and live this!

Like the manager, you can now risk doing business, for, like him, you are a living-dead man.  In the same way, the Owner only allows you a short time-window in which to act–your life now on this earth before you wheeze your final breath.

So, cut the best deal, doing what is right, repenting in shrewdness like unseen before.  For liberated by baptism’s death, you can now live for the life coming to you.  For as Jesus reveals “you are not of the world” (John 15:19).

So make friends with unrighteous money.  For when the wealth is gone, because you can’t take your money with you, God will welcome you into His heavenly mansions.  Do you now understand?  “Unrighteous money” is the wealth of this world.

In your baptism, being dead to sin, you are now unburdened to use creation’s riches for what is eternal.  In Christian freedom and faith, barter and bargain by using the resources you administer, all for the Father to embrace you into His eternal dwellings.

So don’t waste what God grants you.  Don’t squander the Master’s money building an empire here.  For you drowned in the sanctifying waters.  Invest in the future, where an eternal home awaits you.  Indeed, as Jesus tells you, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” and the rest will line up based on His divine realities (Matthew 6:33).

All you own—well, manage, if we stick with the language of our Lord—is a gift from God, everything!  A trust is given to you by the Giver Himself.  Now, you manage what He lends to you.  Like the manager, recognizing the old practices are withered and gone, you also are freed to use the owner’s wealth for eternity.  Use what you oversee in faith.  For how can you fail when you’re dead?  Like the reformed con man of a manager, bet on the future and all you are to attain.

The only way you can lose is if you live your life as the double-dealing manager did, at first.  For when he still considered himself alive, he managed the money under his charge for this life, not for the reality to come.  Don’t live in the old mindset, when you are again living as someone with everything to lose.  Live like a dead man with only a future to gain!  Don’t bankroll the past, but the future.

Listen to Jesus.  “No one can follow two masters.  Either you will hate one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other.  No, you cannot serve God and mammon.”  For if you make an idol of your money, you’ll wind up hating God.

Of course, the sinner in us will protest and complain, always wanting some loophole to feed the cravings of our fallen flesh.  So, we’ll shake our heads and grouse.  “Come on—I need to pay my bills.  Hey, food keeps going up in price.”  So, the never-ending battle over money takes place.  Ponder in whom or what you put your trust, God or money.

The temptation comes to use the money under your control as the unethical manager did before he died and changed.  Don’t you now understand?  For you also died, died to sin through the washing of the Word.  The money’s not yours, but only on loan for a short time.  Remember, you’re the servant, not the owner.  So, set your money on eternity like you earlier died to the world—because, in the purifying water, you did!

Refuse to let money rule your life.  Don’t live your life in the past but for the perfect creation to come!  Ask for God’s forgiveness, for using the money in your ledgers to build up your possessions here, instead of in eternity.  For your heart will always be where you deposit your treasures (Matthew 6:21).

Return to your baptism.  Drown the old, sinful self within you.  Call out to God for mercy.  For He is your Master, not money.  Remember, you are the manager, so don’t pretend to be the owner.  Learn from our Lord and stock up for the glory to come.

On the Last Day, when God closes the files and parcels out the property, He is reserving an eternal dwelling for you.  A permanent home belongs to you, which became yours when you became dead to sin in baptism.  The Son of God paid your mortgage when He died to give you His life.

Yes, what an outrageous Owner!  For God the Father sent Jesus to cancel your debts in His death and resurrection, given to you by the Spirit in baptism.  In a few moments, He will nourish you in this Love with His risen body and blood.  By His sacred Word, He encourages and teaches you how to live in, and live out, this Love.

Those are the lasting fortunes, which moth and vermin can’t destroy or thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:20).  These are heaven’s riches—even Christ Himself!  Beyond all deserving, He guards and protects them for you and continues to give them to you.  Yes, only your Lord is the lavish Owner who cancels your debt.

Dear saints of God, this is eternal freedom!  The Lord Jesus releases you to thrive in this freedom.  So, live with everything God gives you, investing in eternity.  Amen.


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