Acts Of Charity

Jesus is faithful in much and we receive a gracious reward.  Note the irony: Jesus is faithful in much and, yet, we receive a gracious reward.  This is explained in the Parable of the Shrewd Manager.  Or the Parable of the Unjust Manager.  Or the Parable of the Shrewd Steward.  Or the Parable of the Unjust Steward.  It probably doesn’t matter what you call it: you probably don’t understand it, anyway.  The Parable of the Shrewd Manager is, arguably, the most misunderstood and misinterpreted parable that Jesus spoke.

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.  So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you?  Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’  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’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.” – Luke 16:1-4

The “rich man” is God.  The “manager” is you (or anyone else who is listening to Jesus tell this parable).  The “master’s debtors” are your fellow sinners.  The “rich man” warns his “manager” that he (the “manager”) has not been faithful in the use of his (the “rich man’s”) possessions.  God is telling you that you will someday die.  When you die you will “give an account”.  Note the language: “give an account”.  Sound familiar?  This is a reference to Judgment Day, when everyone will have to give an account of their actions, whether good or bad.  In this parable, Jesus is asking you a question: have you been faithful with His (God’s) possessions?  Note the narrative within the parable.  The “manager” is not dead, yet.  You are not dead, yet.  There is still time to get your accounts in order.  Hence the “manager’s” actions in the parable.

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors.  He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’  ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.  The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’  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.’ – Luke 16:5-7

The “manager” is still a manager (a steward).  He calls in all (“each one”) of his “master’s debtors” and helps them.  The “manager” is not forgiving his “master’s debtors” sins: only the “master” can do that.  What the “manager” is doing for his “master’s debtors” are simple acts of charity.  What the “manager” is doing is using his “master’s” possessions (the “accounts”; the “bills”) to love his neighbors as himself.  The “manager” is being a good manager (steward) of the “rich man’s” possessions.  The “rich man” commends the “manager” for his actions.  Note: the “rich man” is not commending the “manager” for his iniquity.  He is commending him for his shrewdness in using his (the “rich man’s”) possessions for the benefit of his (the “manager’s”) fellow sinners (“their own kind”).

“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.  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. – Luke 16:8-9

What is the result of this shrewdness?  The “master’s debtors” (your fellow sinners) eventually die.  Note: they die before the “manager” dies.  When the “manager” dies, they (the “master’s debtors”) are witnesses for the “manager” when he is being judged.  They (the “master’s debtors”) apparently testify to the simple acts of charity (good works) performed by the “manager”.  This part of the parable can be confusing (or more confusing!).  Are simple acts of charity (good works) required to gain entry into heaven (“eternal dwellings”)?  No.  But they can be proof of faith in Christ.  Good works can be an outward manifestation of spiritual belief.  Since the “manager” did good works, he may possesses faith in Christ.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly 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?  No servant can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.” – Luke 16:10-13

A clarification is in order.  The reason the “manager” gets into the “eternal dwellings” (heaven) is not because of his simple acts of charity (good works), but because of Christ.  When the “manager” dies and is judged, he still has sin that needs to be forgiven.  His (the “manager’s”) sins are only forgiven because of the faithfulness of Jesus (His suffering, dying, etc.), not the “manager’s” faithfulness.  This is the reason for the very first sentence of this discussion:  it is only because of the faithfulness of Jesus that you (and the “manager”) receive a gracious reward.

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.  He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.  What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” – Luke 16:14-15