The Parable of the Dishonest Manager (A Right Clever Rogue and the Right Use of Money)
by Nicholas Lubelfeld
What does it mean?
Warning: this is not an easy text. One has to work his way through it. First, pray, “Help me, Holy Spirit. You inspired this Scripture; illumine me. Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do,” Mark Twain is supposed to have written. What do you imagine that astute viewer of human nature would have made of this Scripture? “The parable of the dishonest steward,” opens a popular commentary, “bristles with difficulties which have given rise to a great variety of conjectural explanations.” Now that is what I call an understatement. Read the Scripture, preferably several times if you haven’t yet - forgive me, but it’s amazing how many consumers of Bible devotionals don’t read the actual Bible text itself. (If I were the devil, I’d recommend you don’t bother yourself with details like the text. If I were an angel, I’d propose comparing a couple of different translations: a literal translation like the ESV linked above, KJV, RSV or NASB and a dynamic equivalence paraphrase like the NIV, NLB, J B Phillips’s NT or Peterson’s The Message.)
What do you make of these verses? Observe a four-fold structure: verses 1-8a, verses 8b-9, verses 10-12, and verse 13. The passage as a whole comprises a single pungent parable of judgment (what is Jesus’ striking conclusion?) followed on by a series of three applications (which are what?) into the first of which the parable is deeply embedded. Repeat or rephrase the main point of each.
What does the Lord reveal about himself and his ambitions for us? What truths does he lay down about the children of this world? The children of light? What warnings? What rewards? Do you read any principles for us to pick up? Is there a particular grace or truth to which God is directing your attention or imagination? Where is the beauty, the goodness for your thoughts and will to attend and follow?
What does it matter?
Common grace matters. Money matters. If, as St. Thomas Aquinas reminded us, grace does not overthrow but rather perfects nature, then we have high praise of wisdom and a strong command of prudent money management for heavenly ends. Almsgiving is one traditional way of practicing this grace. As Sirach 29:12 puts it: “Store up almsgiving in your treasure house, and it will save you from every evil.” Money is both a powerful means of attaining heaven and yet, misused, a tool of perdition.
Finally, notice that the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness; he did not commend the shrewd manager for his dishonesty.
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)
Nicholas Lubelfeld has been Pastoral Associate at The Falls Church for twenty-six years. A lifelong Anglican, married with two adult children, he previously led parishes in Michigan and Virginia.