Although Jesus tells this parable to His disciples, the parable is pointed at the Pharisees and scribes. They are never far from hearing what Jesus says, always looking for a way to trap Him in His words. When Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and scribes, or even to the Sadducees, you must see yourself as one of them. The parable is directed to you as well, for our heart is a Pharisee’s dwelling place. Yes, a heart of stone is made a heart of flesh in baptismal waters, yet this side of Paradise a Pharisee stands alongside the one made holy believing in Jesus Christ.
The children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the children of light are. That stings, and it should sting. As a child of light, it stings to hear that people who live as if the world is all there is to life know better how to deal with what they have. That is why Jesus tells the parable of the dishonest manager. Although released from managing his master’s goods, he still has time to cut deals and do what he was given to do in the first place.
A manager, a steward, handles someone else’s property. If there is a debt made from what his master has, he collects the debt. If his master is in debt to another, he pays the debt. Perhaps there is a line of credit involved. Looking at this parable and what happens after the manager is relieved of his duties, there is a line of credit involved on the part of the master’s debtors. The manager is supposed to make sure those debts are paid in full, or at least paid toward being paid in full.
Somewhere along the line the manager is accused of wasting his master’s possessions. Note there is no hard evidence. The master goes on hearsay. Give an account of your management, because you can no longer be manager. Jesus never says how the manager wasted his master’s possessions. The hearsay was good enough for him. Instead of thinking what he could do for his next job, the manager gets busy doing what he was supposed to be doing. This time, however, his debt collecting comes with a price more advantageous to the debtor than to the master.
One debt is slashed in half. Another is slashed twenty percent. At last the steward does what he is supposed to do. Even his master has to commend him for dealing shrewdly with debtors. Although there are deep discounts, the debts are paid in full. Mismanagement becomes shrewd business savvy. Although not faithful with much, the manager makes friends on his way out the door. Perhaps he might find a new job with one whom he has dealt shrewdly.
What do you do with what you have? Children of light tend to squeeze everything they own so tight that not even a drop leaves their hand. God forbid you have an opportunity to tell the Good News about Jesus to your neighbor. She might laugh at you. Worse yet, you think you might say something wrong. Better to keep quiet than open your mouth. God forbid you have an opportunity to help someone in need who may or may not be a Christian. You might have to give away one of the five or six boxes of cereal you have in your pantry. You still have plenty in store. Yet you’ll miss that one box so much.
No servant can serve two masters…. You cannot serve both God and mammon. Yet those who serve mammon are more shrewd than those who serve God. Whether or not Jesus is being sarcastic when He says make friends for yourselves with unrighteous mammon, so that when it runs out, they will welcome you into the eternal dwellings, there is something to His words here. No one enters eternal life with a U-Haul. There are no storage units in the New Creation. But don’t have that estate sale quite yet and live in poverty. You get to use what is given to you to show your neighbor Who has given it to you to give it to them.
Last Thanksgiving Eve you heard that something isn’t a gift until you can give it away. Freely you received it. Freely you give it away. Granted it may not have been free, but you are free to keep it or give it away. All your possessions don’t belong to you. You are a manager of it. Your greatest possession, your priceless treasure, is the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Even that is meant to be given away, just as it was given to you.
Once you see that you don’t own all your possessions, you’ll also see that your possessions don’t own you. You belong to God the Father for the sake of Jesus Christ. You are His greatest possession. He will use all you have to show His love for sinners. He will use your mouth to tell His mercy. He will use your hands to give your neighbor what he needs this side of Paradise. Your body is a living sacrifice, set apart to worship God and serve your fellow man. Christ died for all. Believing that is true, you see everyone as one for whom Christ died and one for whom you are privileged to serve. You see Christ in them. You prefer Christ over your mammon.
This doesn’t mean that all earthly things are bad. After all, God uses earthly things to bring you heavenly joy. He sanctifies water as a blessed flood of your baptism. He sets apart bread and wine as His Son’s true Body and true Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. He sends men to speak His Word, creating faith when and where He wills it.
Saint Paul calls men given to use earthly things to bring heavenly joy stewards of the mysteries of God. The Holy Things aren’t mine. The Holy Things are God’s Holy Things given to God’s Holy Ones; holy because you are covered in Jesus Christ’s blood. I’m only a steward, a manager under orders to give them to you. Even when I could, God forbid, misuse them, they remain Holy Things in spite of myself and in spite of yourself. Though we are sinners, Christ died for us and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation. Together, forgiven, we receive good things from God. Together, forgiven, we love and serve our neighbor. Together, forgiven, Christ manages our sin by dying for it and giving us His righteousness.