Some of the stories in the Bible are what we refer to as parables - they might tell one thing (having a "surface meaning"), but when you ponder them in the light of the day in which they were taught, you find a much deeper meaning to the story. If you read the first sixteen verses Luke 16, you are treated to a story about what appears to be instructions in business dealings, or on how to be shrewd in our dealings with financial matters. As the story unfolds, we begin to see a manager taking advantage of his position - he just hoped the boss wouldn't notice! In today's vernacular, we'd probably liken what he did to "padding his expenses" on the corporate expense account. It works for a while, but when an audit of the books is called for, his actions are uncovered. I guess you won't be surprised to learn he loses his job - but it doesn't stop him from being as shrewd as he had been in his previous position. In fact, he begins an entirely new venture - one of ingratiating his own personal debtors by cutting their bills in half. This way he ensures he will always have them in his service - making it easier for him to live the life of luxury he has come to enjoy. If that doesn't beat all, the boss who fired the manager actually sees what he does to ensure his future and commends him for it! He knows this guy was always looking for the angles, but this revealed an ingenuity sometimes referred to as being "streetwise". The story could end there, but Jesus goes on to say, "I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior." (vs. 9)
If you’re honest in small things, you’ll be honest in big things; If you’re a crook in small things, you’ll be a crook in big things. If you’re not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store? No worker can serve two bosses: He’ll either hate the first and love the second or adore the first and despise the second. You can’t serve both God and the Bank. (Luke 16:10-13 MSG)
Jesus doesn't focus on the shrewdness of the man as much as the ability to be "smart" in your actions. The caveat - be "smart" for the right reasons! Be "smart" about the right stuff! What the manager did was use the things of this world to ensure his future here. What Jesus wants us to do is use the things of his Kingdom to ensure not only our future in another world, but to impact the world in which we live today. Jesus often used the topic of money to challenge the heart - because money is a character issue. What we do with money, how we handle it, or how it handles us, is a good view of either the depth or shallowness of our character. Money reveals trust issues - either we have come into a full trust in the promise of God providing for all our needs, or we continue to hold out for the manipulation of our circumstances to serve our needs apart from how he plans. Money reveals heart attitude - either we have an open heart, free to share and bless, or we struggle with the self-centered attitude of greed which keeps it all for us.
Most of us hope Jesus was promising we'd always have more money than what we'd know what to do with - truth be told, some of the leanest times financially have brought some of the deepest growth in our lives. It isn't the money which anchors us - it is the heart and spirit of a man. Heart and spirit right with God - focused on him as the provider - will anchor us solidly. Heart and spirit focused on what we have or don't have and we will always find the anchoring we have like shifting sand. When we are faithful with money - something we can see and feel, there is something which occurs in the things we cannot immediately see and feel. God wants to give us "true riches" - things like his presence and power. Most of us can sense God's presence, but we cannot see it like we can the 55" TV in the living room. We can see the outcome of his power, but we don't actually feel the power surging around us - yet his power sets the bound free, heals the sick, finds the lost, and looses the captive.
The money in our hand is really a "testing point" for us. The manager had the money in his hand and failed the test. He didn't handle it well. Even in the end, he still had a rather unique way of handling is financial future. For most of us, how we view money and what hold it has on us is often the "test". When we focus on what we "do" or "don't" have, we are not likely getting the best grade on the test! When we rest in the truth of God providing for all our needs, regardless of what we hold in our hands. What the young manager did was get more into his hands. What Jesus commended repeatedly was the ability to let go of what we hold onto so tightly, allowing it to be used by him. In turn, we never go without! Seems counter-intuitive, huh? Yet, if you have learned to live this way, you know it to be true.
Here's what I think Jesus wanted us to see - bottom line: Money gets a hold on us whenever we give it that hold. Money isn't the problem, the heart is. Money is just a tool he uses to expose the heart. When handled well, it brings healing to the captive. When held too close, the heart will never experience the exuberance of seeing another blessed. It is one thing to be streetwise, it quite another to be "Jesus-wise". Just sayin!