Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’
Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position 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 dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’
And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
I love parables. But, scholars agree, today’s is puzzling. Is it a parable of an unjust steward? A shrewd manager? Or, is it really about the master? And what lessons are we to learn?
Using Ignatian imagination, I put myself in various shoes to get the message.
First, I’m the unjust steward. When I first take my job, I’m grateful—handling the business affairs of my boss sure beats digging or begging. But the boss is away a lot, so I start getting sloppy. Eventually, I take my job for granted and squander valuable resources. It’s not long before I’m taking a cut of the action and padding my pockets. “This is great,” I think to myself, “I’ll never get caught!”
But I do get caught. So now, I’m the shrewd manager. I’ve learned how to game the system, so getting fired doesn’t mean I’m down and out. I consider my options and voila, I’ll just use the boss’s property to barter for the allegiance of the people I will soon need. I’m so good that even my bamboozled boss recognizes my shrewdness!
If I’m the rich man, at first I’m upset to learn that my steward has squandered my property and brought dishonor. But I’m all about business and I can’t help but recognize this guy’s got skills. Whatever he’s wasted of mine is really not that big of a deal since I’m rich. In his latest move he’s actually curried favor with my clients and made me look good! Good for him for not giving up, and for being so shrewd!
It’s not hard to imagine an employee working the system for personal gain, or even a boss who’s been hoodwinked praising the perpetrator for recovering well. But these can’t be the lessons Jesus wants to teach.
So, I linger on the last line, and then it dawns on me. Jesus is encouraging his disciples and people of faith to change the game. What if we were as shrewd for the Kingdom of God as others are for money and personal gain? What if we were stewards of love and mercy, justice and joy for the Master. What if we found every angle to foster community and care for the common good? What if we served the greatest needs and put the last first?
How can we be skilled and shrewd about building the Kingdom? In our day-to-day activities, how can we reveal what love looks like by moving beyond our self-interest and serving others better?
—Jeremy Langford is the director of communications for the Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits and author of Seeds of Faith: Practices to Grow a Healthy Spiritual Life ©2007 Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA.
Prayer for Managers
I want what you want, O Lord. By asking you for guidance, with complete faith and confidence that you are helping me, nothing that I am called upon to do becomes ‘too much’ or ‘too bothersome.’ Nor is there any room for worry. I will find it easy to ask you each day to be a partner in my work…to help me get things done…to weigh my actions and decisions in the light of ‘ is this right?’ ‘is this just?’ ‘is this doing your will?’
With your help I will make decisions better and faster, confident that you will not lead me astray. I will live my life each day knowing that it is your will I accomplish. Amen.
—National Conference of Christian Employers and ManagersPlease share the Good Word with your friends!