Jesus’ Investment Advice: Parable of the Shrewd Manager
Luke 16.1-13 (see below)
This morning I’m going to talk about money and wealth. It’s something that many English people find a bit embarrassing to talk about, but Jesus wasn’t English and he talked a lot about money. We’re going look at the parable Jesus told in our bible reading about a dishonest steward or manager of a large agricultural estate. It is possibly one of the most difficult of Jesus’ stories to understand. Something about it doesn’t seem right.
It helps, a little bit, when we try to understand what Jesus was saying when we appreciate who Jesus was telling his story to. He was speaking to his disciples. We know that this group did not come from squeaky clean backgrounds. Jesus was surrounded by what Luke calls tax collectors and sinners. The tax collectors at that time were notoriously corrupt. They increased their wealth by corrupt business practices. Jesus probably chose the subject of a dishonest steward because it was one they could identify with.
In the story the owner of the agricultural estate is very rich. One day, some people come to him and accuse the Steward of squandering his employer’s property. Maybe the Steward was just careless with the way he managed the estate, maybe be misappropriated funds for his own purposes. We don’t know. What we do know was that the owner summoned the Steward and asked him to give an account of his management. He also told him that he was going to lose his job.
The Steward thought about it. He thought about what this would mean for his future. How was he going to provide for himself if he lost his job and lost his income? He knew he wasn’t strong enough to take on labouring work. He didn’t want to beg for money from other people. So he thought up a scheme that would win him lots of friends who would support him when he lost his job. The Steward called in to see him the people who were his Master’s debtors. One man owed his Master 100 measures of olive oil. ‘Cut it down to 50’, he said. Another man owed his Master 100 units of wheat. ‘Cut it down to 80’, he said. It was clearly very dodgy. His Master would not get the full amount he was owed by these people. Yet the extraordinary thing is that when the Master finds out, he commends the Steward for his shrewdness.
What is going on? Why does Jesus tell us a story where a dishonest man is commended by his employer?
When Jesus comments on what this story means for us he uses these words in verse 9, ‘I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth (or mammon) so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.’
Jesus is not saying we should be dishonest. He is saying, ‘I want you to be smart like the Steward.’ What we might call today, ‘streetwise.’ The Steward was making plans for his future. He was doing everything he could to make friends that were going to help him when his job came to an end.
Jesus is saying to us, ‘I want you to look to your future.’ Just like the Steward, we have an end in sight. The Steward was preparing for the end of his job. Jesus is calling us to prepare for the end of our life, what he calls in this passage, ‘eternal homes.’
We have a choice as to how we use our time, our money and our energy. Jesus says in Matthew 6.21, ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ If we are living just for this life, the things we eat and drink, the upkeep of our houses and property, the friends we have now, our families, then that is where we will choose to invest our time and our energy. Jesus is urging us to have an eternal perspective. He is urging us to be smart. To be wise. He is urging us to invest in our relationship with God and in God’s priorities. To use our time, our money and energy for his purposes. Our families, our friends, the food and drink we enjoy, are all good gifts from God, But our top priority must be investing in our relationship with Jesus.
This morning I want to briefly focus on what this means for us in how we use our money and possessions as this is the focus of Jesus story of the Shrewd Manager. we have is a gift from God.
1.The bible is very clear that all our money, all our possessions, everything we own is given to us by God.
We will be remembering and celebrating this in our Harvest services in a few weeks time when traditionally people have gathered together to thank God for his provision during the last year.
Most of us will recognise the words we regularly use in the liturgy, ‘Yours Lord, is the greatness, the power, the splendour, and the majesty: for everything in heaven and earth is yours. All things come from you and of your own do we give you.’
These words come from the book of 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament. They are taken from King David’s wonderful prayer when he gave incredible amounts of gold, silver and other precious metals and stones for the building of the first Temple in Jerusalem. David knew that all the wealth that he had was not because he had worked so hard and not because he was a good person. He knew that everything he had was a gift from God. David speaks these wonderful words in his prayer, ‘But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand…Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.’
All that we have, all that we own, has been given to us by our generous God.
2.God calls us to be faithful and wise in the way we use the things he gives us.
There is a sense in which we are each called to be good stewards of the things that God gives us. This is probably easiest to understand in the way we use physical things-our land, our houses, the resources of our planet. We are called to be good stewards-God has given us a beautiful and abundant world to live in and he calls us to care for it and look after it.
God also calls us to use our money and possessions wisely. God is generous and Jesus calls his followers to be generous in response to God’s generosity.
In the bible, we see the early church grappling with how this works in practice in their lives. What does it mean for us to be generous and faithful in the way we use our money and possession?
The question for all of us is, ‘Am I using my money and possessions to invest in Jesus work here on earth? Do I give generously to the work of my local church? Do I give to the poor?
This Harvest we are going to be asking people to think about their giving to the ministry of our parish. Giving to the work of the local church is one of the main ways we invest in the work of Jesus. Our money funds our worship and work in our local community and beyond. In our own parish, as part of our Parish Mission Action Plan we are hoping to increase the level of our regular giving to meet our annual expenditure. At present the regular giving is about £70-80,000 and our outgoings are about £130,000. There is a quite a gap. Up until now that gap has been filled by fundraising.
We are also wanting to encourage people to move over to the Parish Giving Scheme Parish Giving Scheme website . This is a really helpful way of giving as the admin for the recovery of tax is done for us and substantially reduces the work for our Bookkeeper Madeline. This in turn reduces costs for us as a parish. We have leaflets that explain how it works and forms to apply for it. I know that Madeline or David Anderson our treasurer would be really happy to explain how it works if you have any queries.
You might think all this sounds very prosaic and not very spiritual. Jesus takes a very different view. The way we use the resources he gives us on earth, show what our priorities are. The way we use our money reveals our hearts.
Jesus calls us to invest wisely. The dishonest Steward was smart enough to use his influence to plan for his future. Jesus is not calling us to be dishonest. He is calling us to invest in our future. We can’t buy our way into eternal life. But the way we use our money and possessions in this life reveals whether we truly share Jesus’ heart and his priorities.
I met my husband Oliver at university. One of his best friends, Tony, married one of Oliver’s Australian cousins and they came to live in London. We all became really good friends. But sadly after about five years, Chris’s mother became unwell in Australia and they decided to move there to be closer to her. They had a huge job packing up all their furniture and possessions and shipping them across the world. Part of what they needed to do was get rid of all the things they had accumulated that is just weren’t worth taking with them. During those months their eyes were fixed on where they were going.
Jesus is saying to us, ‘Fix your eyes on where you are going.’ If you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, then he is calling you to use your time, your money and your energy now to invest in your future with him.
As we invest in our relationship with Jesus, God will store up for us a rich reward that will last for all eternity.
16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 16:1–13). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.