ON FIRST READING, the parable of the shrewd manager and its unexpected conclusion is one of the strangest stories that Jesus tells (Luke 16:1-9).
An inefficient and wasteful manager is called in by the wealthy owner and told he is to be sacked. He must close out the books and pick up his pink slip. Terribly concerned about his future, the manager wonders what he should do. He does not possess the robust physique that would equip him for manual labor, and he really does not want to go on the dole.
So he comes up with a totally unscrupulous plan. While he still enjoys legitimate authority over the owner’ s goods and accounts, he starts cutting deals with his master’ s debtors. It is a huge operation, and the sums are enormous. For debtor after debtor, he slashes the amount of their indebtedness, in some cases as much as fifty percent. His reasoning is very simple. In a culture where a gift creates an obligation, he recognizes that all these people will feel obligated to accommodate him when he finds himself without a job and income. With sums like these, he will be able to rely on their hospitality for a very long time. Doubtless the master did not like having his accounts diddled, but he was savvy enough to recognize the shrewdness his manager had shown.
Then comes the startling application: “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (16:8-9). What does this mean?
It cannot mean that Jesus advocates unscrupulous business practices. The point is that the manager used resources under his control (though not properly his) to prepare for his own future. Do the “people of the light” use resources under their control to prepare for their own future? What is that future? The shrewd manager wanted to be welcomed into the homes of these debtors; the people of the light are to be “welcomed into eternal dwellings” (16:9). So should we not be investing heavily in heaven, laying up treasures there? If that includes spending money on the right things, so be it: when it is all gone, we still have an eternal dwelling ahead of us. The idea is not that we can buy heaven, but that it is unimaginably irresponsible not to plan for our home, when even the people of this world know enough to prepare for their future homes. Understandably, the next verses (16:10-15) strip away the glamour of possessions in favor of what God highly values.