When a wasteful manager’s dishonesty is discovered, he has to something to survive. Jesus’ story in Luke 16:1-15 sounds like a recent movie plot. Jesus doesn’t say whether the manager was taking more than his fair share of the profits or was just guilty of mismanagement. We are left to fill in the details, which makes the story universal when it’s applied.
What is clear is that his day of accountability has arrived and he will soon be without a job. “What is this I hear about you?” says the business owner, “Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be a steward” (Luke 16:2). The charges against this manager or steward must have been true because he can’t defend what he did. Instead, he asks himself: “What shall I do?” (Luke 16:3).
The steward does not have many ways to support himself because he is too old or weak to do manual work, and too ashamed to beg (Luke 16:3). Since he had already crossed the moral honesty threshold by wasting his employer’s money, he decides to put his master’s debtors in debt to him by reducing their debts from 20 to 50 %. The debts were large, more than 800 gallons of olive oil and an equivalent debt in wheat. His actions were so clever that his master had to admire the self-preservation skills of his former employee: “The master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly” (Luke 16:8).
Jesus offers a different perspective. After saying, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8), Jesus gives a foundational success principle: “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10).
The everyday details of life are more important in developing character than major life-changing decisions. In fact, the little choices we make determine our big choices. Our spending habits, personal integrity, and use of time result in habit patterns that won’t change when we have to choose between faithfulness to God and personal benefit. Yet choose we must. Jesus concludes: “No servant can serve two masters . . . You cannot serve God and mammon (money)” (Luke 16:13).
The Pharisees who were lovers of money, heard all this and were “sneering” (Luke 16:14 NIV), but Jesus had the last word: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). As you read Luke 16 accept Jesus’ challenge by being faithful to God in the least detail of your life.
Douglas Jacobs, D.Min.
Professor of Church Ministry and Homiletics
School of Religion, Southern Adventist University