“The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly” Luke 16:8
I don’t like to think God approves of us cheating one another. This scripture is a whole parable about a
rich man who had heard that his business manager was embezzling his earnings (“wasting his estate;”
same “wasting” as the younger brother who got his inheritance early and went to a far country and
“wasted” his inheritance.). This scripture says that the manager, or steward, called in the debtors of his
master and cut their bills down, one by half, one by a third. And the steward/manager was commended
for taking care of himself, by the master he had cheated! “People who belong to this world are more
clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light.” (Luke 16:8)
When I preached about this scripture, I conjectured (on the basis of some of the commentaries I had read)
that the one who got his bill cut in half had perhaps gone to the master to thank him for his generosity.
Maybe it was an answer to prayer for the man with the oil business; maybe his year had not been so good;
maybe some of his olive trees had gotten too old to produce; maybe one of his presses had broken and
needed replacing. Maybe that is how the master found out about the steward’s misuse of the master’s
business. Maybe the “silver lining” for the master was that it made him look good; it made him appear
generous; that was a good thing, after all.
But to commend the thief? To commend the embezzler? To commend the cheat?
I first thought of this parable as an example of God’s understanding of our human condition. “For the
inclination of the human heart is evil from youth…” (Gen. 8:21) That’s why God made the rainbow: to
remind Him that we will always be making mistakes, saying the wrong thing, thinking the worst, making
bad choices, “going down the road with the pit in it.” I thought that Jesus told this parable to help us
understand that God knows how we are… and loves us anyway.
I see there is another aspect here; another goodness going on that is often overlooked. The steward was
helping himself, by helping others. By giving the vendors a break in their bills, the steward insured his
good favor from them in the future. They would care for him, as he had cared for them. They would
forgive him his debts as he had forgiven theirs.
I keep thinking about the manager of the factories of Shindler; he cheated his master by “hiring” more
people than were needed. They produced enough goods to make the master, Shindler, rich. And though
he didn’t like being known as a safe place for the Jews, it was the money he made that ultimately bought
those same Jews their freedom at Auschwitz. That manager (the one played by Ben Kingsley) kept
himself safe while he kept others safe. And he changed Shindler.
God loves us, I believe, No Matter What. And He commends those of us who help others, even when we
do it by cheating someone else. That’s why Robin Hood is such a beloved story. That’s why John
Newton’s Amazing Grace story is so vibrant with us. That’s why the Madam of El Paso who started a
home for unwed mothers is such a good story. In these stories and in this parable, we know that we are
prone to “sin” (“Hamartia:” missing the bullseye) and that even so, we can do some good in the world.
Jesus was a man like we are. He lived in a flesh and blood body, and knew what hunger and lust and
anger and love felt like. He was a homeless man, born illegitamately, of a poor woman betrothed to a
poor craftsman. Yet His manifestation of God changed the world. Yes, let us try to do good. But know
that No Matter What, God loves you. He sent His Son for you, after all. And He will receive you Home.