The Dishonest Manager
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Today’s Gospel tells of a dishonest manager.
That’s literally what the story is known as in Christian circles:
“the story of the dishonest manager.”
It’s a story that Jesus tells to his disciples.
And in true Jesus form:
It’s a story that’s hard to follow in one reading:
So let’s sum it up.
The dishonest manager convinces all of the vendors who owe his employer
money to falsify their invoices,
So that it appears that they owe the master less than what they do.
He’s thinking ahead:
If he does the vendors a favor now by making it seem like they owe less than they
Then maybe they’ll be more likely to do him a favor:
Like give him a job once he gets fired for corruption.
This could totally be a story in a news headline today.
A guy, who schemes out others, to make himself look better.
But here’s where it gets weird:
Jesus: the Son of God:
Praises this corrupt manager!
He even says:
make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone,
they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
So, is that it? Is the point here that Jesus wants us to be deceitful?
Are we called to cheat others when our own neck is on the line?
What is going on here?
There are a couple of possibilities.
First, at least part of what Jesus is trying to say is that just as the Body of Christ is
not only about hands and feet,
So too the body of Christ is not only about the heart.
It’s also about the brain:
It’s about thinking and thinking critically.
Without the ability to think critically and share our expertise with others,
no amount of passion or money or creativity will bring our goals to a reality.
In praising the manager, Jesus is not praising his dishonesty;
he is praising his shrewdness and creativity.
He’s praising the manager’s ability to utilize his capacity for critical thinking as a
tool for building up the Body of Christ and bringing about the Kingdom of God.
And you know, that’s hard to hear,
Jesus praising a man who committed a fraud.
But here’s another piece of Good News:
Towards the end of the reading, we hear Jesus say this:
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much;
and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.
If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,
who will entrust to you the true riches?
And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is your own?
No slave can serve two masters;
for a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and wealth.”
This is kind of confusing stuff.
At first, we might want to use these words to indict the manager for his
He has been dishonest in his dealings.
He obviously cannot be trusted with true riches.
But perhaps there is another possibility.
For every reason that we have to condemn the manager,
there is an equally important reason to forgive him.
The manager is:
To use Jesus’ words:
“dishonest in a very little,”
but can we really be so sure that he is not also faithful in very little, too?
Are not we all a complicated mixture of faithfulness and frustration;
of dishonesty and determination?
Perhaps the manager was a good father;
a faithful and loving husband.
Maybe he took care of the yard for his aging neighbors and shared fresh
vegetables from his garden with the widow across the street.
When we find ourselves caught off guard by someone’s immoral or unethical
especially when we’re on the receiving end of it--
we have a tendency to second-guess the sincerity of every single word they’ve
and doubt the intentions behind every single action they’ve ever done,
in an effort to insulate ourselves from the pain of being wronged.
Then after agonizing over and second-guessing every last detail of a relationship,
we begin to think of the person who committed the immoral or unethical
not as a person who made a mistake,
but as a bad person.
And when we change the conversation from being about questionable behavior
into a conversation about personhood,
when we reduce them to being a bad person,
they become disposable—unworthy of our concern,
and certainly undeserving of our forgiveness.
Jesus’ praise of the manager is not an endorsement of unethical behavior;
his praise of the manager is an affirmation of his personhood;
of his identity as a beloved—although broken—part of the Body of Christ,
and a builder of the Kingdom of God.
So perhaps what Jesus is teaching us is that words matter.
Perhaps he’s reminding us that critical thinking is a part of Christian life.
And at the end of the day, perhaps Jesus is calling us to second-guess ourselves;
to re-evaluate our presuppositions and judgments.
Because when we do that--
when we err on the side of mercy and forgiveness--
the Kingdom becomes just a little bigger,
and the Body of Christ becomes just a little stronger.
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