Luke 16.1 thru 15 An Eternal Attitude
“An Eternal Attitude!”
Our text for today’s sermon is taken from the Gospel lesson concerning the Parable of the Shrewd Manager…or is it the Dishonest Manager, or Prudent Steward of Unrighteousness?
This parable is considered one of the most difficult of all parables to interpret. Few gospel passages have given rise to so many different interpretations as this one. In modern scholarship, there are no less than four interpretations that are attached to it. I’m sure that if I asked each one of you what this parable means to you I would get multiple explanations.
Let’s pull out this text on page 1625 and look at it together. First, if we look at it, he is only accused of being unjust at the beginning in verse 1! He realizes he is going to lose his job and he will need other’s charity and puts together a plan that looks like cheating his master but this very well could be translated as his commission that he gives to the debtors. At that time, a manager would have the latitude to charge whatever he wanted in commission as long as the owner received what he expected. Therefore, this would change the complexion of the parable for many right off the bat. This is actually a somewhat widely accepted theory in scholarship and is substantiated quite well. Let’s move on to look further at the parable in general.
Two themes have been understood to be intertwined in this story. There is the “use your wealth wisely” strand. Giving away or giving up one’s money for charity and justice’s sake is seen as a way to secure “friends” in heaven. Then there is the “be clever in a crisis” theme.” It is to be applied to the crisis of one’s imminent death and wise action in the light of it. Much of the disagreement among commentators can be explained by their choosing one strand over the other as the sole basis for interpretation. Actually, the point is quite simple and consistent with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere. Simply put, the disciples are to use their wealth, money, resources, energy, and talents, in this present life with an eye on the future life!
Stewardship, as it was practiced by a “steward” in Jesus’ day, provided a pretty good metaphor for how we are before God. The steward owned nothing of what he managed. Neither do we. Like him, we are entrusted with the Master’s goods, indeed his world, and given wide latitude to do with it as we wish. We can develop what is potential in our wealth, wealth standing for talents, resources, opportunities, education, etc, including money, or we can squander it. We can spend it on ourselves or use it to help others. However, no matter how free we may seem to be, there will come a day of reckoning. Our books will be audited. We will have to account for every penny we spent, squandered or invested, indeed every minute we have lived. How well and wisely did we use what was entrusted to us? This will determine whether we will be promoted or let go. This is why we take on an “Eternal Attitude!”
Let’s look at verse 8. Shrewd is from the Greek word phronimos, which is translated-prudent or having to do with God’s divine wisdom, to describe the attitude God likes and commends. It is the “eternal attitude”, the viewing and doing everything in the light of the end that makes the steward shrewd. The steward in the story knew it was in his ultimate best interest to give up his personal profit in order to pass the final test and so he took on an “eternal attitude”.
The World tells us to PLAN AHEAD!
We are exhorted from our childhood to plan ahead and this is not a bad thing. The world tells us to plan ahead. We are to save for the future…or “for a rainy day”. This is a basic tenant of our activity as solid citizens. We work with foresight to ensure our welfare beyond the present day just as the steward was doing.
This working and saving makes our economy run and helps the whole country to prosper. God is not speaking against planning ahead in this parable. However, He is helping us to know that there shall surely come a day when that in which we have placed our trust will fail.
JESUS wants us to plan ahead!
Look at our parable on this subject. Jesus wants us to plan ahead! Jesus relates to us in this parable about a prudent manager, or steward, who gave up his personal profit to successfully pass an audit of his business dealings. This steward was seeing it to be so important to plan ahead and save that, he was soaking the manager’s debtors with either interest or commission. Jesus applies this lesson to his disciples and helps them to see that he wants them to plan ahead.
This Parable of the Prudent Steward is an “example story”. Jesus says, in effect, “Let this story be a lesson to you. You do the same in your Christian alternative (or otherworldly) life as this steward did in his business (or this worldly life).
The manager calls an audit because the steward was “wasting” or “squandering” his possessions. The same Greek word for “wasting” is used in the parable of “The Prodigal Son”, which is the parable just before this passage…isn’t that interesting? Here we see the mercy of the owner in that he is giving the steward time.
God gives us TIME to weigh what is important.
If we dig into the text here, we see time that is allowed. The manager announces an audit, but he is merciful. He gives the servant time. This parallels our time on earth. God gives us time to weigh what is important. Then the servant begins a soliloquy as to what to do. He eliminates the obvious alternatives and decides he is not strong enough to dig…There always seems to be openings for diggers. The basis for his confidence in the outcome of his plan is the reciprocity ethic that was so important in Greco-Roman culture. In Roman culture people believed strongly in returning favors done. He knows this will happen, but he doesn’t know when. He gives anywhere from 20 to 50% off to the two examples of many!
However, this parable is not just about the mercy of the master who gives us more time, but in the end, the attention goes to the behavior of the servant. Jesus allows for enlightened self-interest as an acceptable motive for right action. Sometimes God, through the law, uses self-preservation to lead us to spiritual revelation. At first, and for a time, the steward thought it was in his self-interest to extort interest, or high commission, from his master’s customers. His this-worldly philosophy would go something like this: “Who would know? Everybody does it. I have to look out for number one.” And so forth and so on. In the light of the end, the audit, the inevitable day of reckoning, turns out that what he thought was in his best interests was actually his downfall. The opposite was in his long-term best interest. Jesus wants us to learn that lesson right away, not to waste time by saving money, acquiring it, or even extorting it from others. It is the wrong attitude and the wrong direction. The wise, and prudent, person knows that, lives that truth and one day will be truly wealthy in heaven.
Conversely, Jesus, after relating the parable, speaks, apparently directing His words to the Pharisees; the one who is unjust with a little is also unjust with much. If you continue in this sinful behavior, how can you be trusted with heavenly things? He follows with, “if you haven’t been just with the thing that is unjust, the thing that is true, who will entrust that to you?” Then, “If you have not become faithful in that belonging to another, who will give you what is yours?” Pharisees were “lovers of money!” What do they do, they turn their nose up at Jesus! In addition, He says, “you are the ones who judge others but God knows who you truly are.” (This certainly shows us who He is speaking to in our text) You see, “what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight!
The Sons of light can plan for ETERNITY!
Yet we are the sons of light…are we not? Moreover, “the Sons of light can plan for eternity!”
Jesus uses “wealth” to refer to anything extra, anything beyond what is essential for living. Time, talent, and treasure would all be considered “wealth” to Jesus. Isn’t it true that everyone has at least 25% to 50% more of time, talent, and treasure than he or she needs to live? No one owns either the necessities or the extras of one’s life. God owns everything! We are stewards who must give an account of how we used what we were entrusted with. It is in our own self-interest to help meet the needs of others even at the cost of personal deprivation.
There is a HUGE difference in these plans!
Here’s what really matters brothers and sisters, we have been transformed by grace from darkness into the kingdom of light. We know through the Spirit and the Word of God that there will be a day of change and it is soon to come. We also know that we have been given the things that will not fail us on that day. We have been given the Word of the Gospel that abides forever. We know that the kingdom of God is unshakable. We know that the works of a new life in Christ will not be forgotten. Eternity’s light shows us that we frequently have things upside down and backwards and need to adopt an eternal attitude. A crisis, especially the crisis of impending death, the great audit, can make us look at things in that light and plan differently.