The parable recorded in Luke 16:1-15, and generally captioned, The Parable of the Shrewd Manager, can be thought-provoking if not confusing. On the surface, it appears to be about the use and abuse of money or possessions. Here we witness the actions of a canny employee, about to be fired because of mismanagement. There is no mention of the actual deed; however, it is made evident that he used his control over his employer’s possessions to acquire the friendship of his subordinates, so that he could secure himself against an uncertain future.
He decided to “cook the books” by reducing his master’s debtors’ invoices by 25% on wheat and 50% on oil. This must have both shocked and pleased the debtors. If this parable is about money and possessions, then it is wise to remind ourselves that one’s attitude to earthly possessions can indicate one’s shrewdness or silliness, trustworthiness or untrustworthiness, or miserliness or generosity. So, yes! There is the very fundamental issue of honesty and using someone else’s possessions to “feather one’s bed”; but I am sensing that there is a deeper message.
The actions of the protagonist of this parable highlight the value of relationships and community. His anxiety about falling from grace and losing his job, about not being strong enough to dig, and too ashamed to beg (16:3), forced him to contemplate the alternative course of securing community support. When he was fired, he wanted people to welcome him in their homes (16:4). He did not want to become friendless. He wanted to avert his impending situation by applying the principles conveyed in the Guyanese proverb: “Hand wash hand make hand come clean”.
Human relationships and community acceptance and support are critical for meaningful existence. Humans are made for relationships; we need each other to survive. As John Donne put it: “No man is an island. No man stands alone …We need one another, so I will defend each man as my brother, each man as my friend.” The steward’s actions and intentions speak to the fact that stigma, discrimination, isolation, and loneliness are counter to true humanity. It is only through being together that can we move through darkness, sickness, divorce, unemployment, and brokenness, and become whole and healed people of God.
It is most regrettable that this man only knew the value of his community when his back was against the wall. When all was well and he was in his master’s good books, he didn’t seem to have given any thought about others. It is conceivable that he may have priced the goods unreasonably high. Now that he was heading for a crash, he quickly sought the support of the community.
For various reasons, we often find ourselves in circumstances where we need each other to survive and live meaningful lives. So, Charles Wesley was correct when he made his plea:
“Help us to help each other, Lord,
Each other’s cross to bear,
Let each his friendly aid afford,
And feel his brother’s care.
Help us to build each other up,
Our little stock improve.”
Thought: We are created for community and interdependence.
Prayer: Lord, help us to always remember that we are made to embrace community all the time, and not only when our backs are against the wall. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
By: Everald Galbraith