Our story is that of a rich landowner and his manager. The manager hired to manage the landowner’s property was said to have been squandering away the resources he was hired to manage. I imagine this was perhaps like a landowner and a tenant farmer. The text said the manager was squandering the landowner’s property. Squandering is a difficult word for this text. A better translation is that the manager was wasting his property. In the example of a tenant farmer, the manager may not have been planting a full field leaving areas that would not produce a yield.
The landowner went to the manager and asked him about the accusations that he was not properly and honestly managing the land. The landowner asked the manager for records on his land and threatened to fire the manager.
The manager became concerned how he would provide for his family. He knew that he wasn’t strong enough to do farming himself – he had probably hired men to do the farming. The manager was too proud to beg. The manager decided the most important thing was to save his honor so that his friends and neighbors would still respect him.
The manager went to each of the landowner’s debtors. These would be the people who the manager sold the landowner’s yield to. The manager reviewed the debt with each of the people who owed the landowner money. The first debtor owed the landowner for about 900 gallons of olive oil. The manager reduced the debt to about 450 gallons of oil. The next debtor owed the landowner for about 1,000 bushels of wheat. The manager reduced that debt to about 800 bushels of wheat. The debt reduction seems rather arbitrary. The manager didn’t cut each debt in half, but the manager did reduce the debt of each debtor.
The manager had a number of reasons possible for reducing the debt. It is probable that the manager had been charging inflated prices in order to make up for the fact that he wasn’t planting the full property. It is also probable that the inflated pricing was for the manager’s profits. Verse 8 calls the manager dishonest, so it is most likely that the manager was inflating prices to increase his own income. The landowner is pleased that the dishonest manager was clever enough to reduce the debts.
Now, here is where the parable becomes difficult to interpret. Jesus says that people of the world are more clever in dealing with others than His followers are. Jesus says to use worldly wealth to make friends so that when it’s gone, the followers will be welcomed into eternity, like the manager had used debt reduction to gain the favor of the landowners debtors hoping he would be welcome in their homes.
Jesus had been teaching all along to be careful of our relationship with worldly wealth that we can keep it in proper perspective to the Kingdom of God. Then, in this parable, Jesus said to use our wealth to make friends. I think what Jesus is teaching is that the way to keep a proper relationship with money is to spend it on friends rather than storing it up for ourselves, meaning put your relationships with people ahead of your relationship with money.
Jesus goes on to say that our relationship with money will show our faithfulness. That is, if we are faithful with money then we will be faithful with true Kingdom riches. He says that we cannot love money and love God; we cannot love God and love money. How use of money will reveal our faithfulness to God.
This text could easily make for a good sermon on stewardship. The word manager is translated as steward in some Biblical translations. I could say that if we manage our wealth properly we should be adhering to the Biblical command to tithe 10%. That if we are faithful with our money and keep Kingdom values in mind then we can manage our households to live off 90% of our income. I think that interpretation doesn’t do this parable justice. This parable asks more from us.
This parable asks us to share our wealth with our friends and neighbors. It is not to buy friends; it is to share our money and spend it on our neighbors. The Acts 2 description of the first church is a good image of what this parable calls for. Acts 2: 42 – 47 says this about the community of believers: “42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.”
This type of sharing is what this parable calls us to. The believers weren’t just putting 10% into the community’s account. The believers shared everything putting the community’s needs ahead of their own gain. They put relationships ahead of their savings.
The landowner was pleased with the manager when he put his relationship with people ahead of his own profits. The landowner no longer was concerned with the mismanagement of his property because the manager began practicing the landowner’s value of relationships over money. This proper value of people over profits restored the manager to the landowner. Like in the Acts 2 description of the community of believers that manager was practicing the value of sharing wealth with people versus storing up wealth for himself.
When I describe the Church, that is the full body of Christ, I would tell you about the Church’s responsibility to mission and evangelism. I might cite the Biblical mandate to “Go and make Disciples.” I would quote John 17’s prayer of Jesus that God would send the Disciples into the world to preach the truth. I would cite various Scriptures that say that Jesus sent his Disciples to preach the word of God and ones from Acts where the Apostles begin to do signs and wonders as they take the word of God to the people. I would describe the whole Church as having the purpose of carrying on the work that Jesus started in His earthly ministry.
However, I would describe the local church, like this church, very differently. While we have the call to carry on mission and evangelism, we also have the work of forming and nurturing relationships. The church is about relationships. I could be the best preacher and best pastor in the state, but people join a church because they find a place to belong and people with who they want to be in relationship.
When a baby is dedicated, the church promises to care for the baby, watch him or her grow up, teach the Scriptures, and model good Christian behavior for the child. When someone is baptized, he or she is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit into a community of believers. At baptism, the church welcomes a new member to its family as a growing Christian. When a person makes a commitment to faith and joins a church, the person joins a family that he or she wants to journey with as they grow in their Christian faith.
You have journeyed through life together and grown in your faith together. You have celebrated new life. You’ve welcomed new children and grandchildren. You’ve celebrated baptisms. You’ve celebrated as children go off to college or the armed services or start careers. You’ve celebrated as your children started families of their own.
You’ve been married and watched your children get married. You’ve moved away and come back. You’ve faced divorce.
You’ve lost a child, a parent, or spouse. You’ve mourned together and served funeral dinners for one another. You’ve comforted one another and prayed for each other. You’ve given gifts to the church in memory of your loved ones that their memory may carry on with this family.
You’ve seen pastors come and go. You’ve welcomed new people into the family and mourned when families left. You’ve studied the Bible together and listened to sermons together. You’ve sung together and worshipped together. You’ve fought with one another and fought for one another. You’ve sought God’s vision for this family and lived into that plan.
You’ve survived poverty and droughts. You share your gifts and wealth with one another. You’ve done ministry together reaching out to your neighbors.
All of these things you’ve done together. All of you together make up the church. The church is about fostering relationships that are deepened as you face the good, the bad, and the in-betweens together. Whatever the future holds, you’re in this together.