A shrewd and dishonest business man, someone who would be at home among the most conniving traders of Wall Street, is caught in his thievery, and he turns and manages to steal yet more goods in order to cast them like bread upon the waters. The story is two thousand years old: it is the first parable in Luke 16.
In a baffling twist, the man is praised for his shrewdness by his own master and by Jesus. Of course, Jesus is also indulging in some biting sarcasm by verse 9: use your dishonest wealth to gain eternal security. We might safely assume he was being at least as sarcastic in the praise of this thieving manager.
Yet, there is the pointed observation that the “children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of the light.” This, I believe we must agree, is straightforward enough.
Consider the observation, “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” We, and the passage itself, refer to this man as the ‘dishonest manager’, but how many of us possess this level of self-honesty? He is not deceiving himself as to his own nature, and he has a very clear understanding of the nature of the people around him. None of the debtors refuses to take the note and to write in a lesser figure; the manager knows they will not refuse. He is even clever enough to get them to make the changes themselves, perhaps to preserve some level of deniability.
That honest self appraisal is the first useful thing we can take from this passage. Taking the lead from Popeye (who took his from Moses’ interview with the Almighty), let us work on being what we are, or at least knowing what we are.
We’re talking self-awareness, not self-centeredness and not self-judgment.
Most of us, like the Pharisees who were one of Jesus’ intended audiences here, are suffering from the onion syndrome. We are layer upon layer wrapped around not much. We need to focus on the center, and the layers will fall away on their own.
It only works if we are shrewd enough to understand our own hearts. What is at the center controls everything.
Perhaps that is the second concept we can hold up from this scripture passage. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much…”
Small things matter.
Years ago, the economist and writer E F Schumacher wrote a book titled Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. The title itself is helpful. He wrote, “The way in which we experience and interpret the world obviously depends very much indeed on the kind of ideas that fill our minds. If they are mainly small, weak, superficial, and incoherent, life will appear insipid, uninteresting, petty, and chaotic.”
Let’s pull off the layers like winter coats and take a look at who we are, what we really think, good or bad – we can’t change it until we know it.
Finally, let’s remember some words from Fred Craddock in his commentary Luke in the Interpretation series:
Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with a queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. More likely the week will present no more than a chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday school class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed the neighbor’s cat. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.”
Small things matter. Amen.