“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’
“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.
“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
In the previous chapter, Jesus was addressing the Pharisees' criticism of the company he kept among sinners. The parable in this section is addressed to his disciples.
In the story a wealthy man hears rumors that his property manager is squandering his wealth, throwing his money around indiscriminately. He summons the manager and fires him, but first he gives the manager time to bring him an account of the debts he managed. Perhaps the wealthy man did not have these records, or perhaps he wanted the most recent account. Either way, he is about to find out why people fired from corporations today are immediately escorted off the property.
The manager is in a panic. He faces the prospect of losing his income and his dwelling place on the wealthy man's property. He knows he cannot get his job back, and with a reputation as a bad manager he will not easily find a similar position somewhere else. He knows he is not strong enough for manual labor. He knows he is too proud to beg. So he comes up with a solution. In a society where reciprocation is ingrained into every relationship, he finds a way to make those indebted to his master also indebted to him. These men will then have the cultural responsibility to welcome the manager into their homes.
He calls in each debtor. He cancels a year and a half's worth of wages of the first man's debt and two years of wages from the second debt. You can infer that he dealt likewise with the other accounts. These types of deals were occasionally restructured out of kindness when there were locusts, drought, or other calamity. These men summoned about their debt would assume he was acting for his master, not knowing he was fired. Even though there was no reason to restructure their debt, they would of course not ask any questions about this good deal!
We would expect the master to be angry, but instead he is impressed with the shrewdness of the manager. He has used the wealth of another to make friends with those who will reward him. He is still fired, but he has somewhere to go.
To interpret this passage as a green light to embezzle and misuse other's money because the master commends the manager would not fit with the rest of Scripture. So what does it mean? Most people of the world focus on using riches for earthly security. Believers in Christ are to use the "unrighteous" wealth of this world as an investment for eternity. We are to invest our wealth in reaching others with the gospel, so that in eternity we will be welcomed by them into our eternal dwellings. If we were even as wise as the unscrupulous financial planners of the earth, we would purchase friends for an eternity. We would lay up our treasure in heaven.
Are you more focused on your 401K than on the unsaved? Are you more concerned about how many years until you can retire than on building the kingdom of God? Do you manage your everyday finances as if "working for the Lord" (Col 3:23)? Take head Jesus' warning in verse 9.
Most of us are in debt. We owe God's riches to others. If we were to give our finances to God with all our hearts, he would receive a big IOU. Perhaps we should consider spending the bare minimum until we free ourselves to spend his money at the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Those who are unfaithful in small things will also be unfaithful in big things. I often joke that I'm ready for God to stop teaching me patience and start teaching me to be generous be sending me a large sum of money. But if I cannot be generous with the money already on loan to me from God, how could I be expected to be generous with millions? It is actually easier to be faithful with a small portion than with great riches! We should spend less than we take in not just with an eye for our temporal future, but to save for future investment in God's kingdom. Everything we have is God's property, and we are called to use it for his glory.
These two are diametrically opposed, God and money. One commands you to walk by faith, the other to walk by sight. One to be humble, the other to be proud. One to set your affection on things above, the other to set them on the things that are on the earth. One to look at the things that are unseen and eternal, the other to look at the things that are seen and temporal; one to have your conversation in heaven, the other to cleave to the dust; one to be careful for nothing, the other to be all anxiety. One to be content with such things as you have, the other enlarge your desires. One to be ready to distribute, the other to withhold; one to look at the things of others, the other to look at only one's own things; one to seek happiness in the Creator, the other to seek happiness in the creature. Is it not plain. You can't serve two such masters." - A. W. Pink