Parables: Surprise and the American Mind


The Parable of the Dishonest Manager

16 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager [‘steward of unrighteousness’] for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth [‘mammon of unrighteousness’], so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

Luke 16, ESV

Sometimes, we miss the surprise in a parable simply because we do not know the Bible well–take the example of The Good Samaritan. See the previous post (below).

Other times, we let the surprise distract us from the point,

…As in the passage above. For decades I have heard Christians exclaim, ‘What?! The master praised this servant???”

(Perhaps our American focus on our own possessions contributes to missing the point.  Another factor can be a technical mindset that insists on deciphering every detail, cf parable of the mustard seed)

Often, a parable has a single point and Jesus drives it home in verse 9. We may miss the word play in our modern versions–“mammon (wealth) of unrighteousness” plays off the “steward of unrighteousness” in verse 8.

In the light of God’s eternal realm, we are to share passing wealth to aid those in need, now.*

“It [worldly wealth] is to be used to win friends, no doubt by almsgiving….the giving of alms is a testimony to the reality of discipleship and self-denial…” I. Howard Marshall, NIGTC

*Another irony–while the unrighteous steward made friends with those who had wealth for this life, we are to “make friends” of the poor with eternal life in mind.

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