“And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly…” — Luke 16:8
Jesus’ parable in this week’s lesson reminds me of the Disney film, Pirates of the Caribbean. I have always enjoyed this swashbuckling adventure (or should I say, “mis-adventure”) story. In the film, the character of Captain Jack Sparrow is very much like the manager in the parable. He is a pirate. He is a self-serving thief and con-man who loves treasure, women and rum. Hardly a character to emulate! And yet, somehow, Captain Jack keeps doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Somewhere deep beneath the crusty barnacles of his irreverent and immoral life, lies a kind heart and a weird kind of compassion that oozes out in spite of him. At one point in the movie, someone says, “Yes, he is a pirate… And a good man.” And there’s truth in that. In the end, his miscreant behavior manages to bring together the hero and the heroine for a happy ending to the story.
The dishonest manager in the parable is, well, dishonest. As Jack says in Pirates, “You can always count on a dishonest man to be dishonest.” That is true of this manager. All attempts at scrubbing this man to make him seem more noble require us to read things into Jesus’ parable that simply aren’t there. Even his own boss says he is dishonest while he is commending him! But, in the end, his miscreant behavior significantly reduces the huge debts of the two people whose bills he adjusts. I would guess they were grateful. Somehow, in spite of himself, he manages to do the right thing.
Jesus seems to join the master in commending the man’s dishonesty. But, I don’t think he is suggesting that his disciples become dishonest scoundrels who squander their property. (Any more than Jesus commends the behavior of the Prodigal Son who squanders his inheritance in the parable that immediately precedes this one). No. Instead, I think Jesus wants the disciples to understand that even scoundrels can do the right thing… even if it is for the wrong reasons. The point is, if a scoundrel like this dishonest manager can do the right thing, so can they.
In Luke, Jesus talks a lot about wealth and possessions. He commends those who use what they have for the sake of others (even if it is in spite of themselves!) and is critical of those who hoard their possessions or use them for their own benefit. Jesus is trying to teach the disciples, and us, that we need to think about how we use our possessions and wealth for the sake of others.
Recently, I heard someone ask the question, “Do you control your money or does your money control you?” I think that’s a good question. Or to put it another way, “Do you serve your wealth or does it serve you?” Or, to push it a little further, “Do you serve your wealth or do you use it to serve God?” Or maybe even to push it a little more, “Do you serve your wealth, or does God use it, through you, to serve the world?” Maybe even in spite of you? Jesus’ frequent teaching throughout the Gospels suggest that how we use our money and possessions is a spiritual matter. Generosity is good for you. It will open your heart to others and to God’s eternal generosity for you. In the end, I like to imagine that the dishonest manager and maybe even Captain Jack Sparrow figured that out.
Thanks for reading! Pray for those who help us invest wisely, and for those who give us the opportunity to share what we have with others.