Cracking the code on a tough parable

October 27, 2012

An etching by Jan Luyken illustrating Luke 16:1-9 in the Bowyer Bible, Bolton, England. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I spoke earlier this week about the challenging Parable of the Shrewd Manager, which I’m preaching on tomorrow. One difficulty, among many difficulties, regarding this text is that the “hero” of the parable is a scoundrel. As Helen Debevoise helpfully points out in the Feasting on the Word commentary, however, Jesus, in two other places in Luke’s gospel, uses unsavory characters to illustrate otherwise positive points about God’s kingdom: the Parable of the Friend at Midnight (or the Importunate Neighbor) in 11:5-13 and the Parable of the Unjust Judge in 18:1-8.

In the former, a grouchy man awakened in the middle of the night (who wouldn’t be grouchy?) reluctantly gives his persistent neighbor the bread he needs. In the latter, an unjust judge, who “fears neither God nor man,” reluctantly gives the persistent widow the justice she demands. Jesus compares both the grouchy neighbor and the unjust judge to God himself! It’s a “how much more”-type of comparison. If even the grouchy neighbor and the unjust judge will do this good thing under these circumstances, how much more will God?

The Shrewd Manager, Debevoise writes, is similar:

This “how much more…” comparison appears again in Luke 16, where this manager, this person of questionable character, understood something that “children of light” have had difficulty grasping: dishonest or not, this man understood how to use what was entrusted to him to serve a larger goal. Believers, take note. How much more, then, must the children of God understand the riches entrusted to their care?

With that in mind, the manager redeemed whatever he could about his present situation. He understood that, in order to be where he wanted to be in the future, how he handled today counted.[†]

For me, this is a real insight. One important point of the parable is that what we do with the resources God entrusts to us matters, both on this side of eternity and the other. It matters in the sense of our individual salvation, because we have this limited resource of time that God gives us to respond to the gospel. It matters for the salvation of others, since Jesus commissions us to play a role in the work of evangelism. And it matters, as Jesus implies with his words about “eternal tents” in verse 9, because the good work that we do now for God’s kingdom carries forward to the other side of eternity. Indeed, we will even be rewarded (or not) for what we do in the here and now.

Helen Debevoise, “Proper 20” in Feasting on the Word Year C, Volume 4 (Louisville: WJK, 2010), 94.

2 Responses to “Cracking the code on a tough parable”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Good insight by Debevoise, I think. Thanks for sharing this.

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