Ridiculous Grace

The parable of the dishonest manager and other stories in Luke 16

DAVE BISH

The parable of the prodigal son – or the reckless father – is perhaps the most famous and beloved of all the parables. The parable of the dishonest manager follows directly afterwards and is perhaps the most difficult, not least because it appears to commend dishonesty! Parables are Jesus preferred way of teaching because, as he explains in Mark 4, they test the heart of the listener. They're less illustrations and more a kind of spiritual electrocardiogram. Two audiences were always present with Jesus – sinners & tax collectors who loved him, and pharisees and their associates who tended to be offended. A parable invites the sinner and offends the pharisee. Pharisees walk away thinking that they're right to dismiss Jesus.

In Luke 16 the parable is told, it’s about a dishonest manager who takes action to secure his future dwellings (v4): “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” This dishonest manager is then commended for being shrewd (v8) it’s a parable so the heart is always in view and we don’t need to over interpret the story. How does this story land? ● The man is a crook but he gets saved! If I know myself to be a crook I have hope. If I’ve been caught in the act, if I’ve been busted – I have hope! ● But, if you’re a lover of money this story is outrageous. You’d scream, "no way the rich man would commend this crook". Outrageous. Much like the parable of the two sons (Luke 15) outrages the lover of money that the Father figure could approve such squandering of wealth and not commend the propriety of the hard working older son. The application of the parable is made clear for us, by Jesus, who says (v9) “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.”

Go and do likewise! The man acquired friends by unrighteous wealth to secure his earthly dwellings, and Jesus says: do the same about eternal dwellings. Be so shrewd. Do what it takes to get eternal life. Simple enough if a bit strange! The unanswered question is HOW? I think we need the rest of the chapter to get this one. Luke is a meticulous arranger of his material (1v3), and this chapter sits next to Luke 15’s parables of the reckless shepherd, woman and Father (and his sons) very well. In Luke 16v10 we get a principle from Jesus: 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. It’s a lesser to greater argument… what you do with little you will do with much. And so also, v11: “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” We’re already told to be shrewd (faithful) with “unrighteous wealth” (v9), now the point translates to “true riches” ● Shrewd with unrighteous wealth to get earthly dwellings (v1-8).

● Shrewd with unrighteous wealth to get eternal dwellings (v9). ● Faithful with little to be faithful in much (v10). ● Faithful in unrighteous wealth, entrusted with true riches (v11). The point is being emphasized, a call to shrewdness that will ensure true riches are entrusted to them. V12-13 “And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 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.” This builds the same logic though it does seem to be a backhanded critique of the dishonest manager too! Really the focus is elsewhere – who do you serve? What (or who) do you love? The context is clear – v1: disciples, and v14 (much as at the start of Luke 15 which is likely the same incident – or at least Luke frames it that way… grumbling Pharisees and joyous sinners and tax collectors):

“The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.” The love of money is being critiqued and Luke tells us that’s the Pharisees. The Pharisees will hate the idea of the rich man commending the shrewd manager. And they’re being critiqued by Jesus for their love of money which is opposed to love of God. Who are those who have failed to be faithful? Not the “dishonest” but these Pharisees. And, v16: And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. They’re not just lovers of money but self-righteous too. And God knows their hearts – they’re self-exalters and God hates that. Pharisaism is ugly because it’s hatred of God, but also because of it’s disdain for others, especially the sinner, tax collector and crook. Where the Triune God loves the broken, the Pharisee mocks. Where the Triune God extends his love to others, the Pharisee has severe incurvature, unable to love others.

Pharisees take themselves very seriously; they take propriety and money very seriously. In God’s economy things like money are for reckless generosity and shrewd investment. And people aren’t made for self-importance. They’re not taken seriously, but the gospel is taken very seriously. V16-17: “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” The law and prophets have been entrusted to them. Have they been faithful? Are they shrewd? Especially since the lesser (law & prophets) is now surpassed by the “good news of the kingdom” – if they’ve failed with the former, they’ll fail with the latter. Jesus isn’t voiding the law (v17) but exposing the Pharisees hearts. They’ve been bad stewards of what they were entrusted with, they’ve failed to secure eternal dwellings, and they’ll miss the true riches offered. V18 appears to exemplify that the still law stands – and perhaps sideswipe the adultery of the Pharisees? Not quite sure! V19-31 is the famous parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. A rich man in hell – not nice listening for a lover of money!

The rich man asks for another chance for his people, “if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’” But: “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” What’s the point? Those previously entrusted with Moses & the Prophets have failed to steward this, loving money and self-righteousness and self-exaltation instead. The good news of the kingdom, and even someone who might “rise from the dead” will not convince such people! ● If I hear Jesus and know myself to be a crook then this story is full of hope – I will embrace the good news of the kingdom and force my way in, loving the risen Lord Jesus. ● If I hear Jesus as a Pharisee I too am exposed but I’m likely to blow my opportunity and end up destitute since I think myself better than everyone else, love money and love to ridicule others, especially crooks. Jesus invites shrewdness with the gospel to any who will hear – v29: ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’