“The master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the children of this age are more shrewd than the children of light in dealing with their own people.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
As we saw this morning, this parable is another one of those stories of Jesus that start out as we might expect, but then suddenly take a sharp left turn into ground that not only isn’t what we expect, but doesn’t make any sense. If you had only this verse to go on, you might think that the unrighteous manager had done something good. You would be wrong. He cheated his master out of a lot of money (thus his title). So then, what are we supposed to do with this?
Well, let’s start by being really clear what he’s praised for and what he’s not. He is being praised for his shrewdness and that’s it. Everything else he did was wrong and not only resulted in, but doubled down on the reason for his firing.
Yeah, but how could the master possibly turn to praise his shrewdness after everything the manager had cost him? I don’t know about you, but in the face of such personal dishonesty that cost me as much as this manager did his master, I’d be furious beyond words. There wouldn’t be anything he could have done to garner my praise. Right?
If you’ve been through the stage of parenthood where you have toddlers, you might be able to get into the mindset of the master a bit better. Do you remember that time when your little one had done something bad and you were furious and then suddenly they said or did something that was really smart and you couldn’t help but smile? You may have done it from behind your hand so you didn’t totally lose the effect of your stern face, but inside at the very least you were about to burst into laughter. This was a little like that.
Also, Jesus is making a point and the distinction between action and response helps Him do that. So, what’s the point? Well, Jesus wants us to be like the unrighteous manager.
He wants us to cheat and steal?
Of course not.
He wants us to be self-serving at the expense of others?
No, not that either.
He wants us to double down on the wrong when we’ve been caught doing something we shouldn’t have done?
I think maybe you’re not yet seeing the point here…
Jesus is encouraging us to be shrewd. That’s the point of praise. The problem is, most of us don’t really know what that words means and so we don’t really understand Jesus’ point. Okay, so, what does it mean to be shrewd?
The word sounds like something bad, doesn’t it? It always has to me. Something about the way the word sounds has made me always think of it as a character flaw rather than something to desire. The truth is that being shrewd isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. Merriam-Webster defines it as being “marked by clever discerning awareness and hardheaded acumen.” A shrewd person knows how to work the angles to make sure whatever situation they are in plays out in their favor. Now, certainly someone can use shrewdness for evil ends, but knowing how to make sure things play out in your favor can be a very good thing if we know what is most to our favor.
The manager in this story was shrewd in his dishonest dealings with his master’s customers. By slashing their debt, he was making sure that when he needed a favor in the near future they were going to be willing to help him out. That’s what the rich man is praising. That’s what Jesus is commending to us.
Being dishonest is obviously not the point here. Jesus is saying that we should be as clever in working the angles of life to our kingdom benefit as secular folks are at working to craft their circumstances to what they think is their personal benefit. We should be like expert billiards players, working every angle to our kingdom favor. We should look for every opportunity we can to see God’s kingdom advanced in our life and in the lives of the people around us. We should take advantage of every situation to that end. We shouldn’t do anything immoral, of course, but if there is a lead we can exploit that will see God’s purposes accomplished, we should do it.
Maybe putting it like this will help: Think about the incredible effort some folks will put into scamming you out of your money. There are some phone scams that are clichéd they are so common, but the reason for that is they’ve worked so many times. Jesus is saying we should put that same effort and energy into advancing the kingdom. We should be shrewd about it. After all, isn’t our end better than theirs?
So, what angles do you have that you can work in your kingdom favor? What advantages can you exploit to God’s favor? What skills can you put to work to see the way of Jesus advanced in your life or the lives of the people around you? How can you be shrewd for the sake of the Gospel? Get to it.