‘Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth’
The Unjust Manager
There is a saying about a certain type of Christian that goes: ‘He is so spiritual that he is no earthly good.’ In response, Jesus offers us a parable that is strange, even startling, about a very earthly character, the conniving manager of a rich man’s estate, who, believe it or not, provides guidance on how we can live better in this material world.
Let’s deal first with just how shocking this parable can seem. St. Paul tells us that Christians are ‘all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness’ (I Thess. 5:5). Yet here Jesus tells us ‘the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light’ (Luke 16:8).
With particular reference to the manager of our story, he is commended although his business practices have been blatantly dishonest. First, it is reported he has squandered his master’s property. When the owner demands an audit, the manager dreads being reduced either to hard manual labor or begging. Instead, he tells those in debt to the landowner to mark down their bills, defrauding his employer so as to ingratiate himself to the tenants, whom he will need in the future.
Why would Jesus tell us with approval that the master commended the manager for his dishonesty? The answer is, he doesn’t. What the master commends, and Jesus applauds, is the manager’s prudence, that is, his quick thinking response to a crisis and his shrewd use of the resources available to him.
We need to see this parable in its context in the Gospel of Luke. It lies between the story of the Prodigal Son, who squandered his inheritance, and the Rich Man, who hoarded it rather than helping poor Lazarus. St. Luke placed a great importance on the proper use of possessions. This parable is here as a lesson from a ‘child of darkness’ who seeks to use his resources to secure an earthly future. This teaches us that ‘children of the light’ must use their possessions in a way appropriate to the kingdom of God.
And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home (Luke 16:9)
Mammon is the false idol of wealth, which can not be served if we want to serve God (Matt. 6:24). But while Mammon is a devilish master, it can be tamed as a servant to bless us. Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of it (I Tim. 6:10). Money can be a source of great anxiety, casting a shadow over the lives of not just but poor, but the rich as well. Yet, in a material world, material goods can never be seen solely in a negative light. Proper stewardship of our wealth can lead to a life in which we are spiritual through earthly goods.