Shrewd Manager or Downright Dodgy Debt Finance!
Toward a modern reading of a difficult parable
- (Please note that the audio recording included in this article is not the talk given at this CHOW session but a version of the same talk recorded previously)
In one parable of Jesus there’s a guy who seems to have been pretty rubbish at his job, his role is something like a Trust Company Director. He’s been wasting the firm’s money. It’s easy to imagine what he might have been up to. Some of his colleagues or co-workers rat him out to the owner of the business.
This waster finds out that the main shareholder is going to commission a special audit investigation and he knows that he’s in trouble. He’s going to get fired. But he comes up with a clever plan. It’s dishonest, but it’s clever. The plan is going to make the business lose even more money, but it might just win him a few friends. Because he figures that when he’s out of work he’ll need a few friends who’ll help him out in return. He certainly isn’t going to get a good reference after the mess he’s made.
He works his plan, and by some fluke the boss realises that although this Director is a bit of a waster, he can be a smart cookie when he needs to. So the boss decides not to fire him after all.
Now the thing that’s got the theologians and the Biblical scholars in a state about this parable, which can be found at Luke 16:1-9, is what Jesus says next about the story.
Jesus would be expected to be pretty clear about who’s right and wrong in this story. But when he tells this story Jesus appears to be commending some business practices that would at the every least send us running to our Compliance Officers if we came across a similar incident today.
The parable has perplexed and puzzled me for some time, and after reading around it and listening to what others have to say I think I have reached a fairly satisfactory understanding, albeit one with some fairly uncomfortable implications. This week I will be explaining that perspective and then asking for your input to work through the implications.
So, a few questions ahead of Wednesday, to get us thinking about the parable:
- Where did Jesus tell this story and to whom?
- What sort of a person is the rich man?
- What role does the manager / steward play for him?
- What was the rich man planning to do?
- Who are the debtors?
- What do the debts represent?
- What was the manager seeking to achieve when he marked down the accounts?
- How did the master interpret this?
- What was the outcome?
- What would happen next in the story, beyond the point the narrative finished?
- What would the original audience have understood by Jesus’ interpretation (v8-9)? What does that mean for us, here, today?