A difficult parable

Everybody with an IQ higher than their body temperature is familiar with this admonishment:

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

But you don’t see a lot of people trying to interpret the context, which is extremely counterintuitive. I’m not bringing this up to make a point, because this parable has always been a mystery to me. So if you have any idea how to interpret this, please have at it.

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager
16 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 “‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels[b] 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. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

None of the explanations I’ve heard in church rise above “Just So” stories. For example, I heard one pastor explain that the master was expecting to make more money than before, based on the goodwill his manager had purchased from his customers. But that explanation ignores the reported motive of the manager and produces a subversive moral: “commit accounting fraud against your employer to satisfy your own selfish needs and it’ll work out for him anyway, because you gotta spend money to make money”. And just afterward, Jesus appears to criticize the shrewdness which the master had highly valued:

14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

Tentatively, I’d say the point of this story is “It’s not about the money. Even greedy, shady people who praise each other’s vices know it’s just an intermediary good for the things of real value.” If that’s the true meaning, then probably he is saying by analogy “use your time on earth to build up eternal treasures, because even the pagans know earthly things are fleeting and you can’t take them with you.” Then you could also make analogy between money:earth::God:heaven.

Anyway, that’s my best guess.

About Aeoli Pera

Maybe do this later?
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3 Responses to A difficult parable

  1. SirHamster says:

    The shrewd manager uses his expiring authority to buy favors. The Christian is told to likewise use our perishing material possessions to gain friends. (eg: “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did to me”)

    There’s a disconnect with the parable and the following part about trustworthiness – but that’s part of Jesus’s point, that the sociopathic and selfish are better at doing the smart thing for the best personal outcome. The “dealing with their own kind” may also indicate that the master was just as dishonest as the manager. In any case, his commendation just means the master recognizes that objectively the manager made a smart move. Whether the manager ended up keeping his job or actually did his master a favor is irrelevant.

    The final point (10-12) about trustworthiness are for the people of the light, after describing how the people of the world behave. All of our worldly wealth is from God, and here we have directions on how to use it. Those who follow directions are trustworthy. Those who think the game is to become wealthy have completely missed the point and cannot be trusted with eternal riches.

    That leads into 13 – our choice is to serve money or to serve God. Serving God requires that we not serve money by spending it to gain friends. Serving money means we don’t serve God.

    Looking at the context, the Pharisees in 14-15 are more mocking Jesus’s point in 13 about serving God or money, though their love of money also indicates that won’t spend it to gain friends. Virtue-signalers don’t have friends, only bargaining meat-chips for future signaling.

  2. SirHamster says:

    @ Koanic
    Appreciate your write-up. Doesn’t change my take away, but elaborates and makes better use of the details.

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