A SHREWD CHRISTIAN

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1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg– 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 ” ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ” ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

This is an interesting passage from Luke where Jesus appears to draw inspiration from a dishonest manager and attempts to teach Christian values. We need to note that very often when the parables were narrated, it was some aspect of the story that was used to make a comparison and teach valuable lessons. The whole story might not be important as far as the teaching was concerned and the reader should not be distracted by the entirety of the story and miss the critical teaching point.

The major objection that readers will have with this story is that Jesus commends a dishonest manager. How can one who cheats be worthy of emulating? In v8 we see that the ‘master’, likely the rich owner or Jesus himself does not commend his dishonesty but his shrewdness. In fact subsequent verses deal with the issue of trustworthiness and material possessions that we shall look at later in the next post. The first lesson though that comes through is the appreciation of shrewdness.

Going back to the story, the manager was accused of wasting the rich man’s possessions. We are not told if the accusations were fair and right. It could well have been possible that he was being accused falsely and punished unjustly. Though that does not justify the dishonesty, it might help us understand his actions.

Regardless of the accuracy of the accusations, the moment of truth arrives for the manager when he recognizes his lack of permanency at his job. And knowing not what lay ahead, he sets out to secure his future. There is an important parallel to the human life. Man lives his life with a strange sense that all he has and experiences is forever; but the truth is that one day at death, he would need to put it all away and enter the eternal realm. Much like the manager who planned for his future, a wise man would plan for his eternity while here on earth. I will expand on that in the next post.

What exactly is shrewdness? Many synonyms like sharpness, perceptiveness, discernment, insight, craftiness and wisdom help us to better understand shrewdness. Jesus says that people who know God are much less shrewd than their counterparts who do not know God. The reasons could be two-fold. First, an eternal perspective might diminish the necessity a Christian feels to live the grind of life here on earth. Second, practice of Christian virtues like forgiveness, love, grace etc. makes a Christian end up allowing others to take undue advantage of him. Both these reasons represent a philosophy that has been carried to extremes beyond reasonableness.

Elsewhere Jesus says,

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Mat 10:16)

A Christian needs to recognize that while his priority is to honor God, most people he comes into contact with do not have that motive and lest he deals with them shrewdly, he would do himself and the kingdom of God no good.

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