Sunday, September 22, 2013

One parable, two lessons

Luke 16: 1-14, Good News Translation (Today's English Version)

The parable of the dishonest steward, sometimes called the shrewd manager, recorded in the passage above reminds us of the universal admiration of business people everywhere for those who are shrewd, who succeed by cunning schemes and who can think "out of the box", so to say. Today, two thousand years after the parable was recorded, it does not take long for us to think of examples of such cunning people, some of whom may even be among our circle of friends and relatives.

This story tells of a manager was about to be fired by his master for wasting his master's money. In what appears to be a last ditch attempt to save himself from financial ruin, the shrewd manager secretly gave "favours" away to his master's debtors by fraudulently reducing their outstanding debit amounts in the master's ledgers. Naturally, the debtors were most likely aware and would have been very glad that this shrewd manager was doing them a big favour by cheating his own master.

Note that the manager did not do anything new or unusual. Verses 1 and 2 of this passage tell us that he had already been wasting his employer's money. By working in cahoots with those (equally dishonest) debtors to cheat his master, he was merely continuing to do what he had most probably been doing all along, that is, to waste his master's financial resources.

This was the reason that got him fired in the first place.

Now, many who read this passage might be puzzled by verse 8, which seems to tell us that the master who had suffered financial losses at the hands of this dishonest manager, nevertheless, is full of praise for him. A closer look at verse 8 will tell us that the master's praise was not for everything that the manager had done all along, certainly not for how he wasted his employer's money, but instead it was for this outgoing manager's shrewdness in preparing for unemployment.

That is, the dishonest manager is praised for the cunning way by which he cheated his employer one last time to secure new business friendships just before he had to leave his employment for good. Those "happy debtors" whom he had secretly helped would become his much needed friends who may in turn be able to help him find his next job. As such, the master's praise is not the usual praise we hear from bosses about good employees, but rather it is more of a salute, a recognition, some kind of admiration for the awesome way in which this shrewd, cunning, "out of the box" individual who knew how to survive in a cut throat business world.

(Looks like things didn't change much after two thousand years, did they?)

To readers who speak Cantonese Chinese dialect, it is similar to the Hong Kong Cantonese expression, that the manager is "Hoh geng" or "Sye Ley" or "Ley hoy", or the Malaysian slang, "he is so terror man", all of which roughly means this manager is so cunningly awesome.

So what was the Messiah trying to teach here? What lesson was our Master bringing to his audience that day? What can we learn from this rather puzzling parable?

While each of the other parables generally carry only one lesson, this parable appears to convey TWO lessons for its readers.

The First Lesson

The first lesson is found in verse 9, where the Master Yeshua tells us to "make friends for yourselves with worldly wealth, so that when it gives out, you will be welcomed in the eternal home". Note that this statement by no means teaches us to cheat. Instead, it tells us to make friends who will welcome us in our eternal home.

And it teaches us to do so by making good use of our earthly wealth. This earthly wealth does not belong to us (for we can't take it with us after we die), just as the master's wealth in this parable did not belong to the dishonest manager. This earthly wealth will one day fail. It will "give out", verse 9 says, just as the dishonest manager's means of living failed when he got fired by his master.

Brothers and sisters who obey Yeshua the Messiah, let us ponder over our earthly wealth which we can't take with us to our eternal homes. Let us take a good look at all the money we have, money which will eventually fail us. Let us consider how we can make better use of our earthly riches to make heavenly friends.

Perhaps we can start by donating our money to the poor. Perhaps we can win more orphans and widows to heavenly friendship by sharing our earthly wealth with them. Or perhaps, we can win eternal friends by giving away our temporal riches to the homeless, the refugees and the destitute in the Name of our Master Yeshua the Messiah.

Like the shrewd manager, let us use money which we can't take with us to win friends who can abide with us, friends who will "receive" us in our eternal home after we this temporary wealth fails us. This is the first lesson from this parable.

The Second Lesson

There is a second lesson conveyed by this parable of our Messiah. It is found in verse 10, "Whoever is faithful in small matters will be faithful in large ones; whoever is dishonest in small matters will be dishonest in large ones."

This second lesson seems to contrast greatly with the first lesson, in that, whilst the first lesson in verse 9 teaches us to adopt the plan of the shrewd manager in making "eternal" friends, this second lesson in verse 10 teaches us to avoid the practice of the same manager in being unfaithful to his master in the course of running the day-to-day business, of doing "small things", as it were.

Verse 10 tells us to be faithful managers. It warns us against being unfaithful towards our Master, as this dishonest manager had been towards his master. And it reminds us to start being faithful with the "small things" in our present sojourn here in this world.

According to verses 11 and 12, these small things comprise the money, wealth and possessions we have in this earthly that does not actually belong to us in the first place, but instead "belongs to someone else", that is, to our Creator, our Father in Heaven.
Luke 16: 11, 12 GNT
If, then, you have not been faithful in handling worldly wealth, how can you be trusted with true wealth? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else, who will give you what belongs to you?
Brothers and sisters, let us prove ourselves in the sight of God our Father, as people who are faithful in the "small things" of this world, so that He will give to us the glorious wealth that really belongs to us in our eternal home eventually.

May the Grace of our Master Yeshua the Anointed One, who made the once for all Atonement for the sin of the whole world, who was raised from the dead by Adonai YHWH Elohim, and was seated by the right hand YHWH Elohim, be with us from today onwards, helping us to become faithful stewards of earthly money which  does not belong to us, to win many heavenly friends who will abide with us in our eternal home. Amen and Amen.

1 comment:

  1. yeah , sir ... too deep ... I can't get U ...