In Luke Chapter 16, we get a solid lesson in, what I'm sure many of us love to hate, stewardship. For those who may not be familiar with that word, stewardship refers to the responsibility of Christians to maintain and use wisely the gifts that God gives to His people. And those “gifts” include anything from the hourly wage you receive at your 9 to 5, your individual natural talents, and how you spend your time daily, just to name a few.
Rabbi David Kimchi put this whole idea of stewardship beautifully when he wrote, “This world is a house; heaven the roof; the stars the lights; the earth, with its fruits, a table spread; the Master of the house is the holy and blessed God; man is the steward, into whose hands the good of this house are delivered; if he behave himself well, he shall find favor in the eyes of his Lord; if not, he shall be turned out of his stewardship.”
We see this lesson in stewardship unfold in our passage today with the Parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke chapter 16, verses 1-13. In this account we read about a manager who has been trusted to care for, as verse 1 states, a certain rich man's affairs - or, in other words, his riches. However, this manager who has been entrusted to care for the wealth of his lord turns out to be a dishonest man. We know this by the way he wasted the Lord's goods, embezzled them, misapplied them, and through carelessness suffered great loss and damage, not to his own wealth but to the wealth of his master, causing him to lose his highly respected and desirable job, as we see played out in verse 2.
Now unemployed the manager is at a loss as to what to do next. Why? Not because he doesn’t have options but rather because he is lazy and doesn’t like the options that are now in front of him. There is nothing in scripture that points us to believe he is old or lame, so there is nothing physically keeping him from digging ditches; however he declares in chapter 16, verse 3 “I don’t have strength to dig ditches.” In other words, that work is too hard and I just don’t wanna! So what does he do instead? Clearly, not having learned his lesson at this point, he turns yet again to dishonesty by deciding to “befriend” or maybe a better word here would be to “bribe” those who owe debts to his employer to allow him to stay with them. That way he could keep skating by on someone else's dime, not having to take account for his neglect or responsibility for his actions.
At first, it seems this shrewd plan is going to work out nicely. He instructs the debtors to quickly change their books to show they in fact owe the rich man much lesser amounts and in exchange, they will foot the bill for his room and board for a time. And if we were to stop reading here in the story we could easily walk away with the thought that “the bad guy has won”. After all, through all of the dishonesty it was the shrewd manager who gained and the innocent employer who was left wanting. Chapter 16, verse 8 even says “The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd.”
Does that mean that the rich man applauded the shrew manager for his dishonesty? No. What this scripture is doing is highlighting, not that he had dealt dishonestly but that he had done wisely for himself. In other words, he took those lemons and he made lemonade. So how does this apply to us? The answer, which can be found in verses 10-18, is simple - your actions reveal your character. As verse 10 declares, “If you're faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones, but if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibility.” We see this echoed in the life of the manager. How did he try and rectify all that he had lost by acting in dishonesty? By, again, acting in dishonesty. And, without a true heart change, that cycle is going to continue in an unending loop. Why? Because, as verse 13 tells us, “No one can serve two masters.” Again, the shrewd manager shows us this clearly by the way he was unable to serve both desires of his employer, which was to have his riches managed well and multiplied often, growing his empire of wealth and influence, and his own personal desire, to be important, to be known, and to gain as much as possible by doing as little work as possible.
We see this same idea echoed in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In this parable, we see a rich man who had acquired all of the earthly wealth he could ever desire and a poor man who spent his life sick and “longing for scraps from the rich man’s table”, both at the end of their lives. It was at that time that chapter 16 verse 22 tells us that the poor man was “carried by angels to sit beside Abraham at the heavenly banquet” of Heaven, and the rich man “went to the place of the dead” or hell. Sitting in this place of great torment, the rich man has begun to realize that he had it all wrong. It has become blindingly clear to him that his time on earth acquiring great riches meant nothing in the scope of eternity and that caring for the poor man, whom he likely encountered daily - the one cast off, unwanted, undesirable to most - should have been of greater concern. He may have managed his wealth and money well, but he had managed his time and life poorly.
Both of these parables serve as a great warning and reminder to all of us, as stewards, that our actions and/or motives matter to God, and they should matter to us! When we take what the Lord has given us and use it through the scope of our own selfish gain and not for His desired mission to which we are all called, it may appear on the surface that we are “getting ahead,” but in reality, we simply sacrifice the temporary - the gains of this world - for the eternal - the treasure and gift of heaven. After all, if you can’t - or should I say won’t - wisely care for the temporary things, such as your finances and even the time in your day-to-day schedule, then how can you be trusted to wisely care for the things that are eternal?
I don’t know about you, but I want to live a life that stewards all the Lord has given me well! I want to come to the end of my life here on earth and hear my Heavenly Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” as we see declared in Matthew 25:23. Having not only managed the Lord's gifts well but having done so through goodness and faithfulness to Him, His calling, and His mission.