Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Monday, April 03, 2006

the most perplexing parable

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

- Luke 16:1-9

I'm re-reading all four gospels for Lent this year. That means two or three chapters a day, which means reading relatively quickly. But some passages -- like the one above -- just stop me.

The first time I saw this parable, back in my college days, I thought it was a joke. Some rogue translator had snuck a parody into Luke's gospel.

But no, it's genuine. Some translations say "worldly wealth" instead of "dishonest wealth", but the essense of the parable is the same.

So what does it mean? Does Jesus really want his followers to make friends by means of dishonest wealth? Of all the passages in the Bible that puzzle me, I think this one puzzles me the most.



At 4/04/2006 8:19 PM, Blogger Questing Parson said...

O great! It's late-thirty. I'm retired and now you raise questions like this. Okay, back to the books. Get back to you later.

At 4/05/2006 8:37 AM, Blogger Bad Alice said...

THere are several parables about dishonest people, like the one about the man who buys a field because he finds out there's a treasure in it (the seller definitely got gyped in that transaction!), then there's the the employer who is unfair in the distribution of wages.

The interpretation I hear that sounds most reasonable is that Jesus is suggesting that the dishonest have more zeal than the "children of light" and if we put half as much energy into the kingdom of God as criminals do into their schemes we'd be doing well. I've also run across interpretations about how Jesus cooks the books for us. Everyone seems to struggle with those verses.

When I read it, I wonder if "make friends for yourselves. . .so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings" is sarcastic. It reminds me of "Truly I say to you, they have received their reward" when he talks about prayer and fasting.

At 4/06/2006 6:49 AM, Anonymous Barry Dundas said...

I read this as a parable about the powerful and the powerless. The rich man represents the elite who control the resources of this world. The manager has bought into the system that only through aligning oneself with the powerful can you be successful, but in the end he is not successful and there is no redistribution of wealth. The rich stay rich while those who cater to the rich are discarded when they are no longer useful. When the manager realizes that he has been part of a system that oppresses the least of these (more importantly that he will soon be one of the least of these) he comes to understand that he is caught in the middle. He is not part of the powerful elite, but he has not been a friend to the poor. His shrewd maneuver helps those in need and creates relationships that will be important to his future. Notice the parable does not instruct one to be dishonest with wealth, but to be faithful with the dishonest wealth. The manager has found a way to be faithful with the rich man's dishonest wealth that brings at least a small measure of justice to the poor and the oppressed. And he has built relationships with a community of resistance to the inequities of this world.

At 4/07/2006 1:29 PM, Blogger see-through faith said...

blessing you as you get to the heart of this perplexing parable. I look forward to you sharing what God shows you.

At 4/07/2006 9:53 PM, Blogger BruceA said...

Alice, Barry -

Thank you both for sharing your thoughts. You've both given me some things to ponder.


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