Bad guy, good lesson – Friday, 31st Week in ordinary time – Luke 16:1-8
The parable of the prodigal son is followed by the prodigal servant. Prodigal simply means wasteful. He is the prodigal servant because like the prodigal son (Luke 15:13) the very words are used to describe his action; he too “squandered (diaskopizo in Greek) his (the master’s) property. (Luke 16:1)
While charges were brought against the man for cooking the books (verse 1) the master who is described as a “rich man” acts on “hear say” (verse2) demanding the accounts (logos) and dismissing the man in the very same breath. By default, slaves were considered dishonest. In fact, they could not serve as witnesses in court except under torture.
Note that the manager remains silent when the owner accuses him of being guilty of mismanagement. The manager seems resigned to his faith either because he knows he has truly squandered the master’s money or simply because he is unable to fight the forces that are against him. From the narration that follows it seems to be the former; he is a full-blown crook as the manager then forms a devious plan to swindle his master while securing his own future.
Interestingly the manager is in touch with reality. He knows that age is against him and physically he is unable to work. He also seems to have developed some social standing which would cause him embarrassment should he need to borrow or beg as the word appears in the text. Ironically the man may have been ashamed to beg, but he wasn’t too ashamed to steal! Unfortunately, there are a lot of people like that today. So, before the sun sets on his last day at work he comes up with a clever plan that will continue to keep him in good societal standing. He gives his masters creditors a large discount waving off much of their debt.
There are two debtors that are mentioned. The first owed his master one hundred jugs of olive oil equivalent to 875 gallons or 1000 denarii or approximately three years in wages. This he writes off by fifty percent. The second debtor owed his master a hundred containers of wheat or about 3000 denarii or eight to ten years of wages and this was slashed by twenty percent.
Here now lies the apparent paradox for on hearing of this fraud the master “commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly.” Remember that this is a parable and the point of a parable is not to tell us a story but to make a point using a story. The master is not praising his manager for his dishonesty as most people assume, he is. He is praising him for his shrewdness in order to draw to our attention that the children of light must not assume that faith is a matter of being namby-pamby.
Jesus teaches us that we can learn even from dishonest people who are smart! It would be great if all true believers were as clever in spiritual matters as these crooks are in plying their trade. The manager adapts quickly to a crisis and so should we especially in these pandemic days. Within a very different value-system of “the children of light”, do we have the same level of shrewdness and astuteness (but exercised morally) as the manager in the parable?
Sadly, this manager who was praised for being shrewd could have also used his shrewdness to be faithful. How am I managing the gifts God has given me? They are meant to be at the service of those who are most needy.