Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Shrewd Manager- lessons from the PARABLES 1

"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light". Luke 16:8.

What exactly is the lesson our Lord Jesus was teaching to his disciples and for that matter to us with this parable? What kind of shrewdness are we supposed to exhibit in our dealings with our own kind (fellow christians) or with the world?

I ask these questions because I think the manager commited two crimes. First he mismanaged his employers properties and second, after he was served notice he gave away debts which belonged to his employer for his own future benefit. Recently I heard a preacher use this passage to teach on giving, as a way of storing up treasure for the future in heaven. I am not sure that the verse was applied correctly in this regard and it set me thinking about this parable again (and I am now having sleepless nights). Help me out with your thoughts- Robbo

I have never fully understood that parable. A lot of pastors have used that as cream on the pudding (Calorius, I know it should be icing on the cake, but so what?) when they have preached their tithing sermons. I am not entirely sure what the real spiritual meaning is. By the way do you remember that popular preacher in Ghana who used to challenge people to "give until it hurts"?

I was hoping that my brother Gaius Columbus, who is usually deep on these things will make an inspired showing with an answer to your question.- Gaius Texas

Okay folks, this is my take on this parable: Sometimes you hear that a criminal has broken the law (e.g. robbed a bank) and while abhoring the crime, you are impressed with how he accomplished his feat --his intelligence, his daring etc. Sometimes we go even further to almost excuse the act if the pretext for the crime seems justifiable, e.g. we say, "forgetting, for a moment, the morality of the case, and focusing only on the ingenuity of the scheme and the motivation for it" perhaps if the crime was carried out to pay for an ailing child's or parent's health care. We may say "this was a very daring and intelligent crime carried out by some very smart crooks".

This is probably, in part, the reason why we all read and loved books such as "The adventures of Robin Hood". In those stories of this benevolent outlaw, we were impressed by Robin's intelligence, skill, and bravery in robbing the sheriff of Notingham and the King, without necessarily fully excusing his acts of lawlessness--because his acts were done to alleviate the suffering of and to show kindness to the poor, etc. Thus we hailed him to be a hero of sorts given the terrible plight of the poor under the rule of the tyrannical kings depicted in these stories.

I think this parable aims at the same principle. It is not given to condone the dishonest acts of the manager but to call attention to an aspect of his behavior that illustrates a principle or deeper lesson that is worth emulating. The lesson is what I would like to call the PRINCIPLE OF THE MORTGAGE which I will explain below.

First of all, I think we it is worth reiterating that the Lord is NOT saying God's children are to cheat or be dishonest. This would be inconsistent with the rest of scripture. Instead, He uses this parable to set up His main point. To do this He paints a picture or creates a model of behavior within a godless context, that highlights a principle that should have even greater relevance when applied in a godly context. He tells a story that seen from a purely practical/utilitarian viewpoint and within the hard cold calculus of a naturalistic worldview (with no respect for God or to life after death) illustrates a principle that christians are to apply to their lives.

In a dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest kind of world, this shrewd manager faced with sudden dismissal and the need for a pension to survive his old age acted shrewdly by handing out favors to his master debtors to secure his own future. The Lord then asks why the children of Light, with so much more at stake, aren't as wise. So what aspect of the manager's actions was commendable?

Now the mortgage principle. For me, an analogy that perhaps best answers this question is that of a mortgage. The houses we inhabit (unless you are as wealthy as Gauis Texas and are able to buy your house outright) belong to the bank for the first 30 years or so of a mortgage. Still, we are allowed to live in those homes and to profit from them. By the latter I mean that while we live in these homes we also hope to build equity and wealth. The cool thing with these mortgages is that when the worth of these houses increase, the profit belongs to us (even if we do not own these homes outright).

Similarly, Jesus seems to be saying that the money we currently have is not ours. It belongs to God. Yet through acts of kindness to others using God's money, we are able to build true wealth in the life to come--wealth that will (like the profit on our mortgaged homes) truly belong to us. It seems to me, therefore, that Jesus is admonishing us to be as shrewd as the manager in this parable. I must say I love Jesus' pragmatism. He appears to be saying to us "be smart: use another's (God's) money to enrich ourselves in the world to come. Use the money and possessions that God has entrusted to you (wealth that like a mortgage does not truly belong to us but to God), to bless others, to relieve them of their burdens. Do this, so that like the shrewd manager (as in a homeowner with a mortgage) you can reap the eternal returns based on possessions that do not belong to you."

It is this principle; the smart use of God's money to enrich oneself in the world to come (not the dishonesty of the manager in the parable) that is being recommended. Incidentally, the use of actions in a worldy context to illuminate principles that should be even clearer in a spiritual context is something our Lord seems to do in other parts of scripture. See for example the parable about the godless judge and the widow, or the statements contrasting what godless parents do when asked for bread to what we can expect God to do when we pray. In both of these instances, contrasts are used to illustrate a deeper spiritual lesson.

Similarly, Jesus creates a model of prudent action given a world-view drained of God and the afterlife (in that context alone is this manager's actions considered shrewd). Having done this, he then re-injects God and the afterlife into this same sort of pragmatic framework but infuses it with spiritual significance to make His deeper point; being, "How much more, should the children of light be sensible about the future, given the stakes, by applying this same principle.

Use the money entrusted to you, through acts of mercy and kindness to secure a real future". Incidentally, this confirms for me the idea that in the present era, not merely the tithe but all of our wealth belongs to Him. Interested to hear your thoughts. - Gauis Columbus

G Columbus! Once again you show confirmation that the Holy Spirit is here today and continues to work in our lives. May all the glory be to God who gives us all understanding by his Holy Spirit. I have nothing more to say.- Robbo

G Columbus, you gave some deep spiritual insights which I fully concur with.
I agree with your analysis.

Now if you don't mind put your money where your thoughts are and cut out a check for $1000 to each of your impoverished brothers on this blog- send me the total amount and I will distribute it for you. You can fully trust me on this one. :0) - Gauis Texas


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