God is a God who values logic and critical thinking. We see evidences of this in the Bible, such as the verse in Isaiah 1:18 where the Lord calls His people to reason with Him. In this case, the Hebrew word carries connotations of discussion, debate, conversation. The definite thrust of His call is that He wants to talk with His people, for His people to use their minds and talk through deep issues of salvation with Him.
This week, I’ve been studying the parable of the Shrewd Manager, found in Luke 16. The story itself is fascinating: a manager is called in by his boss and fired for mishandling his master’s funds. Because he sees no other options for his future, the manager moves quickly to lessen the debts that people owe to his (now former) boss, before any of the debtors find out about his loss of position. When the boss finds out about the ex-manager’s actions, he praises him for his good thinking! Even more amazingly, Jesus then goes on to look at His disciples and say, for all intents and purposes, ‘be like the manager.’
Say what now?
I’ll be honest, and admit right here right now that I was flummoxed by this story for many years. Is the ethical Jesus teaching us to cheat people even after they know that we are untrustworthy? Is He telling us to BE untrustworthy? This is all so confusing.
When you feel up a creek without the proverbial paddle, it is a good idea to look at the context, the situation in which the story is being told.
The parables preceding the story of the shrewd manager all deal with people who are searching for something they’ve lost. Loss taught the hearers about true value. In one case it was a sheep, in another a coin, in still another it was a child, but they all hold a uniting thread: they held value to the one searching for them. And the result of being found? Much rejoicing.
So, it seems a bit odd when Jesus shifts His storytelling to the disciples, and tells them about such a dishonest (though savvy) manager. But the real kick of the story comes in the application. Jesus turns His lesson into a series of if/then statements: IF you are faithful in little, THEN you will be faithful in much. IF you are unfaithful in little, THEN you will be unfaithful in much. IF you cannot be trusted with earthly riches (little), THEN who would trust you with eternal treasures (much)?
Ah, it makes more sense now. Take away our indignation at the manager’s dishonesty, and you are left with a story about a very smart man. He lost his job, no way around that. He knew himself well enough to know he wasn’t strong enough to go get real work, and he wasn’t humble enough to beg for his living. The only smart option was to create a situation where he looked good, his old boss looked good, people felt indebted to him, and the stakes would be too high for his old boss to undo the actions.
All in all, it was a brilliant plan. Which brings me to another question…when was the last time you used logic and critical thinking to that extent for any reason? What about for the Kingdom? When was the last time you plotted to make someone unsaved come to church with you? What was your last game plan for evangelism? Ouch. If you’re anything like me, the answers to those questions aren’t going to bring about any feelings of pride and joy.
However, Jesus doesn’t stop there. In all His infinite wisdom, He throws in another lesson application. “No man can serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and money.” At first read it is a seeming nonsequitor, but there’s a reason for the placement. Jesus just told His followers that they should be shrewd. He told them that they should wisely manage their earthly wealth to gain friends here on earth, and eternal treasures in heaven. But Jesus also knows that the siren call of money is strong, and that even those with the best intentions of use can fall prey to its evil enticements. How many ministries can you think of that have experienced set backs or fallen altogether because the leaders took the money they were managing for the Kingdom and funneled it into their own pockets instead?
This is the trap, this is the warning. Be shrewd, be sharp, be wise, be trustworthy with little and much…but remember that if you are serving the master of money, you aren’t serving God. In fact, Jesus further polarizes it by saying that you will LOVE one and HATE the other.
For me, this parable comes back to my rallying cry for Christians: don’t check your brain at the door! Jesus never asked us to put down our wisdom and take up our crosses to follow Him. In fact, wisdom is a gift He bestows on us, so let’s not waste it. Be as sharp as serpents, as harmless as doves, and may we never lose sight of the true treasure of all our eternities: the Kingdom.